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Dave Bish has five seminars I gave to some UCCFers on Monday and Tuesday.  I had no idea at the time, but apparently they add up to six and a half hours!

It was basically Three-fold Word stuff with some other teaching thrown in - Doctrine of God, Christ in Exodus, Trinity in Isaiah, David & Goliath, Christ in the NT, Luke 15, What is repentance?, etc.

It was a brilliantly enjoyable time - so thanks Bish for having me.  Good interaction with the guys and exciting to see how God's word will continue to work in us (1 Thes 2:13).

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Christ must be proclaimed biblically.

John 5:37-47

My job is not to speak about the bible.
My job is to speak about what the bible speaks about.

We don’t minister the word in order to give a “take home point.”
We offer a take-home Christ!

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Christ must be proclaimed biblically

The Bible does not need experts, it creates Heralds.

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Christ must be proclaimed biblically.

The Bible is not given to individuals for their personal piety.
The Bible is given to the church to proclaim Christ to the world.

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A minister of the word is not capable of speaking of Jesus.
They are incapable of doing otherwise!

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Jeremiah 20:9; 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 4:13; 5:14-21

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If this is true how will it affect the content
of our word ministry?

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HANDOUT PART ONE

When I say “The Word of God” what springs instantly to mind?

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Genesis 15:1-6

1 Samuel 3:1,7,19-21

Psalm 18:30

Psalm 33:4-6

Jeremiah 1:4-10

John 1:1-3

Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49; 19:20

1 Thessalonians 2:8-13

Hebrews 4:12; 13:7

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How do we make sense of the various ways “God’s Word” is spoken of?

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The Three-Fold Word

 

  • Christ
  • Scripture
  • Proclamation

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Martin Luther: “Tis a right excellent thing, that every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness… For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”

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John Calvin: “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit… it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”

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The Second Helvetic Confession (Heinrich Bullinger): “The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed and received by the faithful.”

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Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16 – From Father to Son to Church to world with divine authority!

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When are my words God’s words?

When Christ is proclaimed biblically.

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If this is true, how will it affect the manner
in which we conduct our word ministry?

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1

Here's my Acts 6:1-7 sermon audio.

But this two and a half minute video from Walter Brueggemann says what my sermon says far better and more concisely.

My sermon text is below...

...continue reading "Acts 6:1-7 sermon (and Walter Brueggemann video)"

Last night we had a home group bible study with the folk who have graduated from Christianity Explored.  Here's what we've been studying:

Week 1: Galatians

Week 2: Ephesians

Week 3: Philippians

Week 4: Colossians

Last night was week 5:  Romans 1-4 (though we stopped at the end of 3 because everyone was blown away!)

When I tell them that the other home groups study half a chapter at a time they are amazed!   "But that's like stopping after three paragraphs of a letter!" they exclaim.  That is precisely what it is!

Everyone prints off the chapters for that week and reads them with a pen to hand.  They circle things they don't understand and underline things they love so they come to the evening quite well prepared.

In the studies we just read a big chunk and then discuss, read a big chunk then discuss.  We've been getting through 4-6 chapters in a night.

Some outside the group have been impressed by it, but also have raised valid concerns:

Question: How long can you keep this up?

Answer: The bible's a big book.

Question: Not many people could lead a study of a whole book of the bible, doesn't this concentrate leadership in the hands of the trained few?

Answer:  Actually it puts the bible in the hands of everyone.  People have really taken responsibility for trying to get a handle on the passage before the meeting and they've been great at answering each other's questions.

Question: Not many people could field the range of questions that would be generated by study of a whole book.  Leaders might be caught out by the number of different topics that could arise in any given week.

Answer: Schedule in some weeks every now and again where you tackle the most recurring topics from the last couple of months.

Question: Won't this mean you miss nuances and details?

Answer: Maybe.  But you'll be revisiting the same material a lot more often too.

Anyway, I commend it to you.  Not least because last night was devastating.  We began in chapter 15 to get some context and then moved through Romans 1 to 3 the way it was intended.  It crushed us to dust and then lifted us up in Christ.  I can't now imagine spacing that out over three weeks!

My advice: move away from the morsels.  Get stuck in!

A couple of years ago I wrote about preachers disagreeing with the translation.  In comments I got asked about whether preachers should know (at least something of) the original languages of Hebrew and Greek.  Here's what I said:

I 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 high-ness, lofti-ness 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)). Btw this is an important point – it’s good not to have to rely on scholarship that’s not convinced of a christocentric hermeneutic (which is most OT scholarship!).

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 vast majority of your biblical scholarship / commentary help is at least 300 years old. It’s brilliant stuff, but most of the contemporary stuff is just not going to pick of 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 fundamentaly 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 (I’ve blogged on this before), 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 Calvin, simply reading Barth, 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 you rightly highlight how crucial that is (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.

 

 


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Now that I have your attention...

I'm getting very wary of arguments that run like this:

"Hey man, we're not medieval, we're protestants, there's no secular / sacred divide.  Therefore it's not that everyone should join Navigators - they can join Goldman Sachs, it's all equally cool.  Cos, hey, Genesis, the Lord is a worker and gets His hands dirty and Adam was made as a worker.  There's a divine dignity to all work, don't try to put full time gospel ministry on a pedestal.  Everything's equal now."

There are parts of that argument to which I want to give a hearty Amen.  But...

It's interesting that Gen 2:15 might be more literally translated:

"The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH"  Or even you could say "to WORSHIP and KEEP."

All this has heavy temple/priestly connotations - just as the temple has lots of Eden connotations.

And of course when the true Man stands on the earth He describes His work (and that of the Father) in priestly (ie evangelistic terms) - e.g. John 4:23,34-38; 5:21-29).  And the kind of 'till the earth' stuff that Jesus does is, well, priestly (ie evangelistic) - e.g. Matt 9:35-38; Matt 13:1-53)

Now we together are a priesthood in Him declaring the praises of the Father that pagans may glorify God (1 Pet 2:9-12). That's true priestliness - bringing people  to God in the Priest - the Lord Jesus.

And that's the real redemption of our labours - whether labours for Navigators or Goldman Sachs (both need redeeming).  We are to sow gospel seeds on whatever soils we find ourselves as priests in The Priest.  Whatever else is involved in the redemption of our labours - that has to be a key part.

And absolutely you don't have to be ordained or "a full time gospel worker" (whatever that phrase means) to do that.  You might very well be ordained etc and not doing that.

But I just don't believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard "as unto the Lord"!  The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant.  And so not all jobs are on a level.

We're used to saying "If you can't be moral in your job, it's not a job for Christians."  But I think we should be equally ready to say "If you can't be priestly in your job, it's not a job for Christians."

But demolishing the medieval divide is not accomplished by denying priestliness to people.  It happens by affirming the priestliness (i.e. the evangelistic character) of all activities.

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Now that I have your attention...

I'm getting very wary of arguments that run like this:

"Hey man, we're not medieval, we're protestants, there's no secular / sacred divide.  Therefore it's not that everyone should join Navigators - they can join Goldman Sachs, it's all equally cool.  Cos, hey, Genesis, the Lord is a worker and gets His hands dirty and Adam was made as a worker.  There's a divine dignity to all work, don't try to put full time gospel ministry on a pedestal.  Everything's equal now."

There are parts of that argument to which I want to give a hearty Amen.  But...

It's interesting that Gen 2:15 might be more literally translated:

"The LORD God took the man and RESTED him in the Garden of Eden to SERVE and WATCH"  Or even you could say "to WORSHIP and KEEP."

All this has heavy temple/priestly connotations - just as the temple has lots of Eden connotations.

And of course when the true Man stands on the earth He describes His work (and that of the Father) in priestly (ie evangelistic terms) - e.g. John 4:23,34-38; 5:21-29).  And the kind of 'till the earth' stuff that Jesus does is, well, priestly (ie evangelistic) - e.g. Matt 9:35-38; Matt 13:1-53)

Now we together are a priesthood in Him declaring the praises of the Father that pagans may glorify God (1 Pet 2:9-12). That's true priestliness - bringing people  to God in the Priest - the Lord Jesus.

And that's the real redemption of our labours - whether labours for Navigators or Goldman Sachs (both need redeeming).  We are to sow gospel seeds on whatever soils we find ourselves as priests in The Priest.  Whatever else is involved in the redemption of our labours - that has to be a key part.

And absolutely you don't have to be ordained or "a full time gospel worker" (whatever that phrase means) to do that.  You might very well be ordained etc and not doing that.

But I just don't believe that Mr lonely lighthouse keeper is really glorifying God by sitting alone on an island but working really hard "as unto the Lord"!  The redemption of work that comes in the Redeemer will mean not simply being an honest accountant (or whatever) but by being a priestly accountant.  And so not all jobs are on a level.

We're used to saying "If you can't be moral in your job, it's not a job for Christians."  But I think we should be equally ready to say "If you can't be priestly in your job, it's not a job for Christians."

But demolishing the medieval divide is not accomplished by denying priestliness to people.  It happens by affirming the priestliness (i.e. the evangelistic character) of all activities.

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A Letter of John Newton On the Snares and Difficulties Attending the Ministry of the Gospel:

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more. To say the truth, I am in some pain for you. Your natural abilities are considerable; you have been diligent in your studies; your zeal is warm and your spirit is lively. With these advantages, I expect to see you a popular preacher. The more you are so, the greater will your field of usefulness be: but, alas! you cannot yet know to what it will expose you.

It is like walking on ice. When you shall see an attentive congregation hanging upon your words: when you shall hear the well-meant, but often injudicious commendations, of those to whom the Lord shall make you useful: when you shall find, upon an intimation of your preaching in a strange place, people thronging from all parts to hear you, how will your heart feel? It is easy for me to advise you to be humble, and for you to acknowledge the propriety of the advice; but while human nature remains in its present state, there will be almost the same connexion between popularity and pride, as between fire and gunpowder: they cannot meet without an explosion, at least not unless the gunpowder is kept very damp. So, unless the Lord is constantly moistening our hearts (If I may so speak) by the influence of his Spirit, popularity will soon set us in a blaze.

...Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.

Today I heard one more story of a keen young gospel soldier recently married.  From what I can tell the wife is feeling abandoned, isolated and increasingly desperate.  And the husband is pressing on in his ministry service for the Lord!

If I had a minute with the young gun I'd ask him to read about John Wesley's disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: "I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state."  (Read more here).  It should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier.

But the Wesley model is not dead.  I still remember the ringing endorsement our own marriage union gained from a leading UK evangelical while we were still engaged.  "You're marrying well there Glen," he said, "She's a doubler."  He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers.  Thus the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, "Is she a doubler?"

Now that might be a question you ask a prospective PA or church worker.  But if that's the first question you want to ask your bride-to-be then, seriously, that's the proof right there.  It's not meant to be.  And you're the problem!  If the prospect of being fruitful and multiplying with this woman inspires a ten year business plan, call it off now.  The kind of multiplication God has in mind is multiplication in which you commit to each other for their sakes.  And, fellas, the more you want to use her for other ends, the less multiplication's gonna happen!

And I'm not just trying to make a cheap gag here.  The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union.  But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness.  I mean this physically but I mean it in every other way.  The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication which can only happen in and through the union and communion of husband and wife. That's got to be the beating heart of it all.

Single people should definitely seek the Lord's wisdom about who to marry.  Wesley should definitely not have married Molly.  If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that's a real warning sign.  But what first needs to be sorted out in our thinking is the very nature of marriage itself.  It is not a ministry multiplication venture.  It is a covenant union, joined by God, reflecting Christ to the world.  And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and physical children.  Under God it cannot help but be fruitful and multiply.  But under God He will bring fruitfulness in very unexpected ways.  It will not be a multiplication one spouse's prior ministry plans.  The old individual plans must die.  This will be a new union with a totally new kind of fruitfulness - much of which simply cannot be predicted.

But an understanding of marriage that is anything like a contractual business partnership will strike at the very heart of the covenant union.

I pray for this young couple, that there would be a death to the old individualist/contractual understanding.  And that out of that death would come new life in their union and communion.  And, yes, that out of that there may even come a wonderful fruitfulness.  But it will be His fruitfulness His way.

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