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Angry Evangelism

Posted on by Glen in evangelism, gospel, ministry, preaching | 3 Comments

Angry-PreacherI’ve come across far too many angry evangelists for this to be a coincidence. Out we go, door-knocking, flyering a uni campus or getting into conversations on the streets. (I’m a believer in first contact evangelism so I’m often doing this kind of thing (see here and here).)

Almost always these are two-by-two scenarios, so there I am with a fellow evangelist and we get chatting to someone about Jesus. Within 90 seconds my partner is agitated. This happens all the time. Maybe the non-Christian is showing scant regard for the importance of their own soul. Maybe they’re denying their inherent sinfulness. Maybe they have the temerity to question certain gospel events. But pretty soon the non-Christian turns out to have actual non-Christian views and my Christian partner gets antsy.

Suddenly the Christian turns the conversation towards the conviction of sin, the inevitability of death, the judgement to come etc, etc. All of these have their place – absolutely – but I often wonder whether these are raised out of frustration and the desire to sledge-hammer a way through a conversation that hasn’t gone as planned. I don’t think I’m imagining it. I think that there are a lot of angry evangelists out there. And not just “out there”.

I still remember (with more than a wince) a carols service I preached at 12 years ago. Workers piled into our central London church for a lunchtime sing-song and some mince pies. I vividly recall drawing attention to the carol before my talk: “Do you realise what you’ve just sung? O Come Let Us Adore Him. Adore Him? Such praise of Jesus! Doesn’t that turn your English stomachs?” Yes I used that phrase: “Your English stomachs.” *sigh* I can still picture the looks, the shifting in the pews, the ultra-awkward festive refreshments afterwards.

I was trying to draw attention to the person of Jesus – how incredible that billions would sing adoration to Him even after all these years. But what came out was anger, snarkyness, frustration, superiority. Ugly stuff.

I see this kind of thing quite a bit. Christmas and Easter services are prime examples. The preacher is often found saying: “And where have you been the other 50 Sundays of the year??” with their tone if not their words.

What’s going on?

Several reasons might be given for a Christian’s angry evangelism:

  • a failure to grasp the gospel (we don’t see it as good news, so we put all our focus on “hard truths”)
  • a failure to grasp the nature of evangelism (we think of it as delivering an ultimatum rather than the offer of Christ).
  • a failure to grasp the bondage of the will (that the unregenerate “cannot see” 2 Cor 4:4)
  • a failure to have any non-Christian friends (such that non-Christians genuinely surprise and threaten us).
  • plain old self-righteousness.

I think these are going on all the time in evangelists, in evangelical pulpits and, let’s face it, in me. And it’s ugly.

But let me here draw attention to something else going on. Essentially it’s a view of evangelism that sees humanity as standing on either side of a “decision for Jesus.”

Slide1

Now there certainly is a vital distinction between those in Christ and those who are not. But this kind of evangelism revolves around, not Christ, but the decision.

On this understanding an “evangelistic sermon” is not so much a sermon full of the good news. It’s a sermon imploring non-Christians to make a decision. Such preaching makes Christians feel bored (because they’ve already made the decision) and non-Christians feel got-at (because the preacher is clearly not addressing their own flock but taking aim at the visitors).

Let me suggest a far more important line that should define our preaching. This line is between the “life of heaven” and the “life of earth” – between God’s righteousness and our sin.

Slide2

Only one Person stands on the right side of this line. Only Jesus. The rest of us – Christians and non-Christians – are on the wrong side of His story. In evangelistic preaching then, we don’t speak over the heads of Christians to hit our real targets – the unwashed. We speak to the children of Adam and reveal the problems of Adam. These problems are common to all, but praise God, there’s a solution for all. Jesus is the “life of heaven”, He is God’s righteousness and He’s made available to all. Christians need Him and need to look to Him constantly (not just in a one off salvation-moment). Non-Christians too need Him and need to look to Him for the first time. But the problems addressed are the problems of all and the solution proclaimed is available to all.

But what does preaching look like on that first paradigm…

Slide3

Someone from the right side of the line condescends to preach to those below. And the essence of their message is an “arrow up” – it’s an exhortation to make a salvation decision (the way that the preacher has already).

So preaching comes from on high and it’s message is for those below to make their way up. Not so on the second model…

Slide4

Here the preacher is on the side of the hearers – part of the same problem but also offered the same solution. And so this is the essence of the message: arrow-down! In the law, heaven does indeed stand above us and condemn us. What is revealed from heaven is, first, the wrath of God (Romans 1:18ff). But this wrath is revealed to all humanity and convicts all alike of sin. “But now a righteousness from God has been revealed” (Romans 3:21). Here comes the gospel and, once again, it is arrow-down as Christ is offered to lost sinners.

Christians need this gospel. Non-Christians need this gospel. No-one should feel superior. Everyone is humbled. No-one should feel uniquely “got at”. Everyone is lavishly “given to.” What place does anger have on this understanding.

But what understanding do we have? And how does it shape our preaching?

 

Faithfulness or Fruitfulness?

Posted on by Glen in ministry, pastoral theology, union with Christ | Leave a comment

vine2It’s a question commonly posed among Christian ministers: Am I called more to faithfulness or fruitfulness?

When you realise that there can be great “ministry successes” based on “secret and shameful ways”, you start to prize faithfulness all the more.

When you see dry-as-dust ministers making no impact but claiming a justification in their plodding “faithfulness”, you might start to prize fruitfulness.

Which is it?

Three initial thoughts:

1. If the purpose of the discussion is to make ministers feel better or worse about themselves, it’s almost certainly the wrong discussion. If it becomes about managing our own egos in ministry then we’re already on the wrong footing. Too often we take sides on this one because we want to insulate ourselves from critique (if we’re ‘faithful’ but fruitless) or to congratulate ourselves (if we’re ‘fruitful’ but faithless).

2. The benefit of the “faithfulness” side is that it prioritises what God is doing in us before it considers what God is doing through us. This is good. God does not treat His children as means to an end, but as ends in themselves. The faithfulness crowd focus – or at least should focus – us on what God is up to in their own walk with Jesus before they ever consider “bums on pews.”

3. The benefit of the “fruitfulness” side is that no-one can be fruitful without abiding in the Vine. It’s possible to be a stone-hearted servant lacking any kind of vibrant relationship with Jesus. “Faithfulness” can become a cloak for “doing your duty” and all the sins of the prodigal’s elder brother come into play. The fruitfulness crowd focus – or at least should focus – on an expectant and lively communion with Jesus that just does bear fruit. It’s not the busyness of the builder, laying brick upon brick. It’s the organic growth of the branch that will be fruitful in connection with the Vine,

So it seems like both sides have good points to make: faithfulness makes me think of God’s work in me before all else. Fruitfulness makes me think of my position in Christ before all else. But in practice I find that both positions can unwittingly distract us from our true focus. The faithfulness minister can be too keen to protect their own ego when proper critique and hard questions may be in order. The fruitfulness minister can end up viewing “abiding in Christ” as a means to their real end – ministry “success”.

But if John 15 is properly in view then the faithfulness minister is directed to the true nature of faithfulness – not bricklaying obedience, but intimate communion. They are also challenged on the issue of fruitlessness – not, notice, “numbers.” But still, we should be asking about fruit. Galatians 5 fruit is a good place to start: love, joy, peace, etc… Jesus does not merely say “Plod along, the outcome is immaterial.” He said “If you make your home in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (v5)

Does this fruit go beyond character formation? Well Jesus did say that the fruit itself will abide (John 15:16). It is people who abide in Christ – not simply your Christian character. Therefore it is appropriate to ask “Are others growing in the Vine through my ministry?” No? Then something’s up. And Jesus tells you – abide in Him (v4), let His word abide in you (v7), pray (v16), love (v17) and you will bear fruit: promise. True faithfulness does result in fruitfulness.

And for the fruitfulness crowd – remember: the fruit is not the point. The Vine is. It’s easy to get convicted about our lack of fruit in ministry and to make that the reason we return to the Lord. Well praise God that something reminds us to commune with Christ. But desire for results isn’t the best motivation is it? Let’s never seek fruit for the sake of fruitfulness. That would be like using your spouse simply to have children. The truly faithful do not seek first fruit – they seek first the Lord. In Him – and only there – they are fruitful and multiply.

Not Nature and Super-Nature – Old Creation and New Creation

Posted on by Glen in Holy Spirit, ministry | 2 Comments

Maybe it’s been since the Enlightenment and/or maybe it’s come through Aquinas with his Aristotelian nature/grace divide, but either way… Today we tend to imagine the interaction of nature and “super-nature” like this:

Nature is the solid and certain thing.  And it has its own self-determined course.  But every now and again this ethereal, super-natural world shows up and freaky stuff happens.  Then it’s back to business as usual.

Of course once you grant the certainty and self-sufficiency of “nature” you’re already committed to explaining away all “freaky stuff.”  And, hey presto, naturalism.

Many of us will know how infuriating it is to engage with an atheist who has already defined God out of the equation through assumptions like these.  There is, perhaps, only one thing more infuriating.  That is the Christian who shares the atheist’s assumptions but protests loudly: “No, seriously guys, God is really at work because… let me tell you about this other realm where freaky stuff happens.” At that point the Christian is only confirming the Enlightenment worldview.

I suggest we should frame things more like this:

It’s the old creation that is, in some sense, less real than the new.  It is subject to futility and plunging down into death.  There is an arrow here – there is a direction – but under Adam, that direction is downwards.

Overall however there is progress because the second Adam has come.  And He brings new creation.  The reality of this in-breaking kingdom holds true in Christ Himself and spiritually we belong to that new reality, even as we wait in this passing age.

But let’s ask:  What does it look like for God to show up?

Well God is at work in the Old Creation and intimately so, it’s just that Old Creation goes from life to death.   This is God’s alien work, but His work nonetheless.  Overall though His proper work is the renewal of all things under the feet of Christ (from death to life).  Therefore the signs of His coming kingdom are restoration and recreation. Freaky is not so much the point. New life is.

I have friends who appreciate my emphasis on “the word” but wish I would equally emphasize the work of the Spirit. I long more and more to be a man of the Spirit but sometimes I fear that phrase is coming from a Diagram 1 view of the world, rather than Diagram 2. Sometimes people speak of word and Spirit as parallel to ‘nature’ and ‘supernature.’ So then word ministry is a vital foundation but then, in a discrete mode of operation, God also needs to show up.”Nature” equals the ordinary operations of church – church structures, preaching, band practice.  But when God shows up the Spirit, almost by definition, works outside of structures. Regularity and order are fine. But Spirit equals spontaneous and sporadic.

What would it look like to see the work of the Spirit in the context of Diagram 2?  Here word and Spirit are not two spheres of activity (one being “natural” and the other “supernatural”). Word-and-Spirit is the way the gospel of Christ is proclaimed. And in that context we see new life.  Through the gospel, the Spirit spotlights Christ.  He opens hearts to Jesus.  He draws believers to their Lord and to each other.  He empowers the church to live in love.  And yes He heals today, of course He does. But the healing is not the point where God shows up.  Both the word of the Kingdom and the signs of the kingdom (which include all kinds of new life) are the work of the Spirit.

My two cents.

Ode to an Evangelical Sage

Posted on by Glen in creative, evangelicalism, ministry, poetry | Leave a comment

Preacher Silhouette 2

The tune for ‘Praise My Soul’ works

O thou brain — exalted, senior,
Holding forth from pulpit’s throne.
Feed us with thy academia,
Meted out in monotone.
‘We could never,
‘We could never,
‘Plumb such myst’ries on our own.’

Hear the classics now recited,
Tumbling from thy tutored lips.
Nooks ignored are now ignited,
By thy Greek and Latin quips.
‘O how richly
‘O how richly,
‘Wisdom from each sentence drips.’

Teach us frames to fathom glory,
Scriptures’ tale doth not agree.
Pure distil the Jesus story,
Into subtle sophistry.
‘All was darkness
‘All was darkness,
‘Till thou spoke and now we see.’

Pompous, ponderous, proud, pretentious,
Leaning o’er thy preacher’s perch.
Pressing out the sap that quenches,
Thirst for knowledge, Eden’s search.
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Breathe thy wisdom
‘Till inflated is thy church’

O thou noble mind pray guide us,
Through the darkness and the lies.
Warn us from thy foul deriders,
We shall fear, avoid, despise.
‘Raise a banner
‘Raise a banner
‘We shall chant thy tribal cries.’

How to mark our true devotion?
What could ever count as praise?
But to clone thy stale emotion,
Forced to feign thy learned ways.
‘Where’s my study?
‘Where’s my study?
‘I’ll abide there all my days.’

Marching strong into the brightness,
Resolute, we set our face.
Staunch persistence, clothed in rightness,
Rectitude, our saving grace.
‘Call us onward
‘Call us onward
‘Grimly to our resting place.’

Then one day in vindication,
Face to face at last we’ll see
Precious few in that location,
Gathered with thy coterie.
‘Now receive us
‘Now receive us
‘To thy ‘ternal library.’

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Learning Biblical Languages [repost]

Posted on by glenscriv in bible, ministry | 11 Comments

Hebrew-BibleI am not at all naturally inclined to study languages myself so I’m not writing as a language buff. But I think “correctly handling the word of truth” means a certain level of knowledge about the way that word was written and how it can and cannot be handled.

What is the semantic range of this word? Do I realize how meaning can change depending on which prepositions are attached or what verb stem it’s in? Do I at least understand the arguments for why the New World Translation gets John 1:1 wrong? I think a pastor should have a handle on this kind of stuff – not that they can necessarily weigh in with great scholarship but that they at least know why the NIV says what it says and can justify it if they disagree.

And it can have revolutionary significance.  Think of Matthew 4:17 – the Vulgate says ‘Do penance’ but when Luther sees it’s actually “Repent” it becomes the very first of his 95 theses.

I’m not saying someone can’t have a hugely powerful ministry without knowing the original languages (who can deny that in places where the church is growing fastest, pastors very often don’t). And I’m not saying every pastor needs to get to the level where they do all their prep and quiet times in Hebrew. But if our pastors have been given significant formal preparation for word ministry then studying those words in the original languages should be a key component of that. It’s surely not right that pastors have a hundred opinions on the new perspective but don’t actually understand the linguistics behind “pistis Christou” for instance.

I think the tools of a pastor’s trade are words – the bible’s words more specifically. I wouldn’t have confidence in a car mechanic who said “We just need to twist the doo-hickey until the thingumy-jig pops out.”

I’m not suggesting that pastors need to be fluent or anything like it.  You don’t need to be able to speak these languages or hear them or even write them.  Just to read them, painstakingly slowly and usually with some bible software close to hand!

But it pays off. Very quickly you’re able to see a thousand links that are there to see in the original languages but (necessarily) obscured by translations.  Let me give some examples:

Last week I preached on Isaiah 2 and then 1 Corinthians 7:

Isaiah 2:

All translations conceal just how much ideas of highness, loftiness are repeated in verses 11-17. Reading this in the Hebrew definitely allowed the word to dwell in me more richly. I was more impacted by the word because of reading in the Hebrew.

Searching for a theology of trees and hills was easier to do with knowledge of the Hebrew. (Of course it’s not impossible to do without Hebrew but it takes longer and you end up relying on things like bible dictionaries – and I’m never sure if I’m always on the same page as the bible dictionary contributors (esp on OT)).

In v10, ‘The Rock’ vs ‘the rocks’ – I might decide to prefer ESV because of many factors, but surely the best factor is that the Hebrew says bazur not bazurim. This was a key point in my sermon – a big talking point afterwards. I’m glad I know something of Hebrew when those conversations come up. If you’re going to argue for Christ in OT (which I am), the majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but a lot of the contemporary stuff is just not that interested in christocentric detail. But, learn Hebrew yourself and you’ll see it on every page.

1 Corinthians 7:
There are so many minefields here – and so many ethical issues that depend on language debates. I’m nowhere near in a position to contribute to these debates, but it’s very helpful to be able to follow them especially when I’m telling certain people they can’t marry or can’t divorce and telling them on the basis of these ten Greek words which have multiple interpretations.

e.g. what’s the difference between ‘separating’ in v10 and ‘divorcing’ in v11-13? What does it mean for the woman not to be ‘bound’? in v15? Is that relevantly similar to the word for ‘bound’ in v39? Your stance on divorce and remarriage is fundamentally affected by that question.

Now the language alone is not going to decide it and not everyone needs to have language knowledge. But I’m recommending an investment of time in languages that better places you to think through all these issues.

On the one hand learning languages saves you time. It really does – searches are far faster, technical commentaries are much easier to read. If you’re at all interested in the detail of the text, knowing some Greek and Hebrew makes things faster not slower. On the other hand, it slows you down in the right way. Reading the passage in the original allows you to see details and emphases and repetitions that are necessarily filtered out in translations, to see things of Christ that aren’t usually picked up on. It comes home a bit stronger. Maybe none of that will translate to the pulpit, but it translates to my heart – and that’s good for my ministry.

So here’s what I’m saying: It is a tremendous help in correctly handling the word if you know enough about Greek and Hebrew to at least be able to read the technical commentaries and use the bible software. This will mean that, with help from commentaries and Bibleworks etc, you are preparing sermons from the Hebrew and Greek and not simply from the English translations. I really think this makes a significant difference to your word ministry. Enough difference that it is worth the expenditure of, say, 160 hours in training – i.e. 4 hours a week (2 in classroom, 2 in homework) for 40 weeks or something? To be honest you could probably get away with less. And you do NOT have to be a language buff to be able to get to this level. I am in no way naturally gifted for languages, but I found huge payoffs in forcing myself to do it.

Now put that 160 hours (or less) in context. I’ve spent many times over that amount in studying church history, many times over that amount simply reading theologians, simply reading systematics, simply reading Christian paperbacks. I’ve spent hugely more time blogging!

I’m not talking about secret knowledge that takes decades of training and special anointing. I’m talking about learning alphabets and a bit of vocab, learning some verb and noun tables and then figuring out how clauses and sentences fit together. Most of that is dead boring – but these are the nuts and bolts of God’s revelation to us. And pastors deal in God’s revelation. Yes we deal in people and that is crucial (Tit 1:6-8). But we also deal in the word (Tit 1:9). We find time for all sorts of other nonsense in preparation for word ministry (JEPD anyone?!) languages is a really good investment of time. If you have the chance to do it, do it.

A brief reflection on my trip to Africa

Posted on by glenscriv in evangelism, ministry | 7 Comments

“Who here has never heard teaching on the Trinity before?”

My translator asked the question of our audience after my first session.  In a room of 60 Malawian overseers, about 50 hands went up.  Each of them had responsibility for between 6 and 30 churches but very few had learned even a basic doctrine of God.

In May I travelled with Ian Milmine, my boss, to Malawi and Kenya, preaching the gospel and training pastors.  It was a tremendous opportunity and I’d be keen to go back, especially for the chance to support African ministers.  As one professor of theology in Kenya told me, few of his students – most of which are ordained ministers – could actually articulate the gospel.  In a country where 80% claim to go to church, the preaching they hear is a steady diet of ‘holiness teaching’ with a heck of a lot of altar calls thrown in.

As an evangelist I must have prayed with hundreds of people to become Christians on our trip.  But at times it felt like Luther’s experience of climbing the “Scala Sancta” steps in Rome.  It was years before Luther’s conversion and as he said the Lord’s Prayer on each step, he thought he was earning time off purgatory for his relatives.  But when he got to the top he proclaimed “who knows whether it is so.”  I have to admit the same statement crossed my mind when scores of folk indicated “decisions for Christ” – Who knows whether it is so?

It worked like this: whenever I finished a talk, the host of the meeting would either invite a response himself or ask me to do so.  Hands were raised, people stood up or came forwards, dozens would repeat a ‘prayer of commitment’.  Yet it seemed obvious to me that they’d ‘given their lives to Jesus’ many times before.

One evening at a university I decided to preach very strongly that “the gospel is not our life given to Jesus but His life given to us.”  After hammering that point for 45 minutes the host of the meeting got up and – I kid you not – asked “If you want to give your life to Jesus now, please raise your hand.”  I found myself in the strange position of praying that no-one would.  And no-one did!  Never have I been so sure that the word was received as when no-one “made a response”!

While I was dubious about the constant push for “mass conversions”, seed was sown and people rejoiced to hear the good news.  There was often a response to the word of liberation and joy, very different from the forced response of ‘the altar call’.  Anyway… rant over.

In addition to our preaching, Ian and I had separate opportunities to lead hotel staff to Christ in the course of our trip.  These one-on-one opportunities were wonderful gifts from God.  There is undeniably a spiritual openness in Africa that reveals the darkness of the West all the more!

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This is an extract from my most recent prayer letter.  If you’d like to receive my prayer letter, please email me: glenscrivener at gmail dot com.

My Three Favourite Preachers: Steve Levy

Posted on by glenscriv in ministry, preaching | 9 Comments

We all affirm that God speaks in preaching.  For Steve Levy, it oozes out of every pore.  His opening prayer is a plea:  “Father, please talk to us!”  His introduction is a plea: “I want everyone to hear this… children at the back, look at me…”  His conclusion is a plea:  “You need to call on the Lord who is calling your name!”  Every illustration is employed to grip the congregation and say – You!  You!  I’m talking to You!  And throughout he is constantly anticipating objections from the congregation, voicing their thoughts and answering them.  As a passionate believer in church, Steve does not prepare abstract messages for abstract people.  He never, for a minute, forgets that, through his preaching, Jesus is addressing these particular people here and now.   

As a member of his church said to me yesterday, “He looks at who’s in front of him, gets their attention and grips them with the Word. No nonsense!”  (For an example, check out this sermon preached with 70 non-Christian guests for a child’s thanksgiving).

Steve’s obviously a big believer in Christ in all of Scripture (see his book with Paul), but for he and Paul this isn’t a hobby horse to be ridden – it’s a deep conviction about the nature of revelation.  God does not so much communicate plans and programmes and patterns.  He gives us His Son.  Jesus is not some unifying principle of Scripture – He is the Content of what God offers in His word.  Therefore preaching is the communication of Jesus Himself.  As Steve says, “You can sum up the Bible in a word: Jesus.”  Steve’s preaching is a relentless offering of Christ with the (very!) pointed aim that we receive Him / look to Him /believe only in Him.  “Christ alone” preaching is “grace alone, faith alone” preaching.

If you imagine that this concentration on Christ makes for boring preaching, you’d be wrong.  Partly this is because Steve believes that the original authors of the Scriptures themselves were proclaiming Christ.  Therefore he’s not trying to rip gospel illustrations out of the Law and the Prophets (which gets very same-y).  Instead he preaches Christ in the distinctive manner of Moses and the Prophets (e.g. recently they built a tabernacle, dressed people up as priests and walked everyone through the gospel in Leviticus!).  When you preach Christ as intended by the Law and the Prophets it’s always variegated and interesting.

The other reason his preaching is never dull is a foundational belief in law-gospel.  I don’t think I’ve heard him phrase it as “law-gospel”, instead he’s told me he preaches a “raw gospel.”  But it’s the same thing. His sermons are full of the exposing, death-dealing condemnation of Scripture’s demands.  He is brutally honest about his and our total inability to be who we should be.  And this is where he really connects.  He preaches the law not to spur us to goodness but to expose our badness.  And as he does so, it’s utterly compelling.

For instance, in his Hebrews 4-5 sermon below, he speaks, obviously, of Christ our great High Priest.  But his preaching brings out the wonder of Christ’s mediation because, first, he speaks of the double-edged sword of the word which puts us to death.  He allows the law to drive us to Christ and it makes the comfort of the High Priest all the sweeter.

The conservative evangelicalism with which I’m familiar is a thoroughly middle-class affair.  And maybe “law-gospel” doesn’t really happen in our churches because no-one’s bold enough to preach “raw gospel.” A drug addict would feel completely understood under Steve’s preaching.  I wonder if he’d feel understood under mine.

So put it all together and you’ve got a Christ-obsessed, church-loving, shouty, Lloyd-Jones loving Welshman who preaches the gospel Sunday-in, Sunday-out.  What’s not to like?

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Classic Sermons:

Hell

Preaching and Prayer (Ephesians 6:19-20; Ezekiel 37)

The Armour of God

Hebrews 4:12-5:4

Mission Strategy (i.e. go to work 6 days a week!)

John 6:28-40

John 6:40-60

Revelation 5

Isaiah 1

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My Favourite Three Preachers: Mike Reeves

Posted on by glenscriv in ministry, preaching | 5 Comments

Mike “Badda Bing” Reeves

Having appreciated Paul Blackham’s Christ-centredness we are led inevitably to the Trinitarian riches of Mike Reeves.

Here’s a man obsessed with Christ who simply loves his Father in the infectious joy of the Spirit.  While other great minds are liable to dazzle you with technicalities and confuse you with the breadth of their knowledge, Mike uses his penetrating intellect to simplify.  He really only preaches the basics: God and Christ, grace and love.  Without doubt, they are profoundly set forth, but it’s the foundational truths which Mike proclaims.

And what’s terrifying is that, having heard the basics from Mike, we all realize “We didn’t know the basics!”  Not really.  We had assumed God, we had neglected the Trinity, we had missed our union with Christ… and the lack of grace and love in our lives was testimony.  We had thought that our foundations were fine.  We were messing around in the garden shed and Mike has called us back to the Centre.  Now that he’s drawn us back, nothing looks the same any more.  And we realize now the nature of the Christian life.  It’s looking again to Jesus.  Every day I forget.  Every day I seek life elsewhere.  And through the word proclaimed, I’m called back.  Mike concerns himself with the basics.  And in doing so, reminds us that the basics  are everything!

As a preacher Mike is the king of the “cheeky flick” – taking us to some obscure verse in Judges that ends up illuminating the whole passage.  With Mike, Scripture is a vast cathedral and he’s a very adept tour guide.  We don’t simply stare at the stained-glass window in the Lady Chapel, we get a sweep of the whole building.  But when we return to the window it’s all the clearer now.  This is such a healthy view of what “exposition” means and has certainly liberated me from a mechanical  practice of ‘verse-by-verse’.

Perhaps the element of Mike’s preaching most important to me is his obsession with the freeness of Jesus – given to sinners.  Given to me – even in all my wretchedness.  This is what’s so liberating about his preaching.  He is wonderfully trinitarian and has a thoroughly affective anthropology – seeing the centrality of the heart to our Christian lives.  But without our sure possession of Jesus by faith, these things would only end up condemning me.  What secures the Father’s love for me is my sure possession of Christ by faith – and Christ’s of me.  Our gracious union with Jesus is central to our enjoyment of all things in the Christian life.  And Mike preaches this to us relentlessly.  For that I am very grateful.

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Recent Sermons:

Philippians from CEC Leeds

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Classic Sermons:

Trinity part 12, 3,  4

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The Loving Father

The Beautiful Son

The Heart-Melting Spirit

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Mission from John’s Gospel

Why Go?

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Job 42

Psalm 1

Luke 4:1-13

Matthew 26:36-46


My Favourite Three Preachers: Paul Blackham

Posted on by glenscriv in ministry, preaching | 7 Comments

I don’t think I’d ever heard preaching until I heard Paul Blackham.  I’d heard a thousand exhortations.  I’d heard hundreds of expositions.  I’d heard autobiographical apologies and inspirational tales and world-weary battle-plans and state-of-the-nation addresses but not preaching.  Not a heralding of the living Christ.

And then I saw Paul Blackham climb into the All Souls, Langham Place pulpit.  He was younger then than I am now, but he opened his mouth like a prophet of old and said “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”   Then something unprecedented happened.  He preached as if he actually believed his introduction.  He spoke as one speaking the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).  He didn’t weary me with the debates of the commentators, he didn’t show off his knowledge of the original languages, he didn’t waste my time trying to appear culturally relevant, he just – amazing to say it – he just preached.

I’d never, ever, heard anything like it.  And I rarely hear the like of it today.

Paul’s preaching is declarative in tone, doctrinal in content, devotional in aim.  In Old Testament or New, he is crystal clear that Christ is the point.  His life, His work, His blood, His glory.  This is the fire in his bones which he cannot hold in (Jeremiah 20:9).

I know that none of us are going to match his gifting – but can we please aim for these characteristics. Otherwise, really, why bother.

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Some Classics:

Why isn’t good, good enough (Philippians 3) – video  audio.

Jesus Christ: Hope of the Ages (Genesis 3) – video  audio.

What of those who have never heard?  (Colossians 1)  audio.

To A City That Repented (Jonah)  audio.

Preaching at the party (Luke 7) audio

Romansfest – 15 talks on Romans with Tom Parson audio

Fear (Psalm 34) audio

All Sermons from All Souls, Langham Place

All Sermons from Tarleton Farm Fellowship

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Means and Ends

Posted on by glenscriv in Doctrine of God, evangelism, gospel, ministry, pastoral theology | Leave a comment

So, as we’ve seen, God does not treat the world as a tool to be used.  He’s not in the whole creation-salvation thing for what He can get out of it.  He’s in it in order to pour Himself out.  This is His glory – it is His eternal nature to love the other.  That’s what it means to say He creates for His glory.  i.e. He creates that He might sacrifice and give of Himself (Revelation 13:8).  In other words God is for us.  Really and utterly and to the depths of His being, the living God is for us.  This isn’t just window-dressing for a more fundamental narcissism.  It is God’s uncreated and eternal glory to live for the other.

Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life.  Kant wasn’t so far off really.  Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good.  If even God does it, then it must be the good life.  But such living is the fruit of the gospel.  It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.

Yet it runs counter to all the ways we’re tempted to think and act in the world.  Here are some of my temptations to treat things as means rather than ends in themselves…

Salvation

Like a gold-digging wife, I eye  up Jesus in terms of the heavenly blessings He has to His name.  I conceive of salvation as “escape from hell, forgiveness of sins, feelings of love, assurance and purpose…” and I think of Christ crucified as the mechanism that secures these ultimate benefits.  I use Jesus to serve myself.  But I forget that He serves me.  And that He is salvation Himself!

“Godliness

I can use godliness as a means – and not just for “financial gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). I have all sorts of motivations for “being godly” – salvation, self-righteousness, status, self-protection.  And so, I don’t do good “for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10), I do it for my sake.  Yet in all this I forget that godliness with contentment is itself great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).  There’s much truth to the saying “a good deed is it’s own reward.”

Mission

I move out into the world to “gain converts”.  Every friend has a target on their back.  Every act and engagement is calculated according to its evangelistic potential.  I love unbelievers only to the degree that they are winnable to the gospel.  Essentially I conceive of mission as “gaining converts” rather than “offering Christ.”  Much of this stems from the delusion that I can “give the growth” when all I’m called to is “scattering the seed.”

Ministry

I enter into ministry for “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2-3).  Perhaps for money.  Perhaps to seem like a big-shot. Perhaps to exercise authority over others.  Perhaps to escape into a nice little ecclesiastical life.  But Paul had it right when he identified his flock as his crown (Phil 4:1; 2 Thes 2:19).  The people to whom he ministered were his joy.  They were the gain which he saw in all his ministry.

Pastoring

I preach the gospel in order to give people law.  I use the gospel as a spoonful of sugar.  It helps the medicine of arduous “discipleship” go down.  “We mustn’t forget grace…” I say at the start of the sermon.  And then lay down the law.  But in doing so I’m essentially saying that Jesus is a means towards something more vital – moral rectitude.  What would pastoring look like if my ultimate goal was to give away Christ for free?  (1 Corinthians 9:18)

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Can you think of other realms in which we live conditionally and suffer for it?  How does the self-giving life of the Trinity release us into living free?

 

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