Saturday, December 19, 2009

Some things that contribute to making a good sermon

I often reflect upon what makes a good sermon, not only because I sometimes preach but because I also hear a lot of other sermons.
I have already spoken of failures in preaching by looking at the book 'Why Johnny can't preach' but here I want to draw together a few biblical principles and some practical observations about what contributes to a good sermon.

First and foremost, apart from prayer and reading carefully the text, I would say that the preacher wants to consider the passage before him in careful detail. This means taking account of the meaning of the words in the verses, what the background of the passage is and it's grammatical context. So as the preacher does his homework on the passage, he is asking if there are some things that are not clear here, or whether there is some doctrine being addressed here, and implications arising from that and so on. But what is kept in mind and this is the major point I am making here, is that in your study of the passage and preaching of it, it is not enough merely to read out the verse and assume everybody understands what is being said there. As we read in Neh 8:8 the scribes read the verses, making it clear and gave the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
What is then required in giving their meaning is to understand the verses in their immediate context and to the original hearers. We must not just jump to some application we think arises from the passage for us today. Indeed we must teach the people of God what the passage actually means by showing what it meant to the original hearers.
As a practical consideration here, so many Commentaries fail to clearly indicate the argument being put forward in a passage, or what the point being made is and how the surrounding context reinforces that point. Many go into great detail as to the meaning of words but fail to show how it all contribute to the point being made in the passage. I am not talking about application here but the meaning of the passage. I have found that John MacArthur's "commentaries" actually are a good example of a commentary that helps you understand the words in a verse but also how it contributes to the point being made. They are not technical commentaries I suppose, as they could be better described as expository sermons dealing in depth with the passage, but they are indeed helpful.

A second but I believe related point to this endeavour is for the preacher to "rightly divide the word of truth" as Paul says in 2 tim 2:15. some translate it "correctly handle the word of truth". Most commentators point out here that it is highlighting the important role Timothy has in teaching God's Word, yet I think Gordon Fee is probably more accurate when he puts the words in their context of standing against the false teachers who are quarreling about words. Now this does not mean that the meaning of the words of Scripture aren't important. He is not saying we must have unity at all cost so don't quarrel about words. Elsewhere Paul tells us elders are to refute error, so it cannot mean that Paul is telling Timothy just to ignore what is going on. Indeed the prior verse Paul instructs Timothy to warn them about quarreling about words. Chapter 3 is a lengthy onslaught against the false teachers and Paul lays out for all how certain people in the Church have been targeted by them. As Fee points out, Timothy is to stand against their error, but his disposition is to be markedly different to that of the false teachers. This will result in, as chapter 2 tells us, that he is not ashamed, unlike the false teachers, because he correctly handles the word of truth, and that is the kind of workman you are to be.
And being such a workman is hard work!
As Homer A Kent Jr says on this passage:

"Simpson says 'it enjoins on every teacher of the Word straight forward exegesis.' There must be discernment between the various subjects taught in Scripture: salvation and service, the Jew and the church. Interpretation and application must be clearly treated. Attention must be paid to the dispensing of the word, the use of wisdom and tact.The Holy Spirit will guide God's workman, but there is latent here much need for precise and earnest labour."

Do I achieve this? Am I good at this? I do not consider myself a great preacher, but I do put in the hard work and try to follow the above principles so that I too will not be ashamed!

Perhaps you have other points your could add to those above. Why not share them with us.

God bless,

Responding to harsh criticism

I found the article by Tim Keller on how to deal with criticism, and how John Newton has helped him respond in godly ways a helpfull reminder in times like ours..
I would only add that when criticism comes your way, also ask your spouse what they think and also other close godly friends whether you have over stepped the mark or done wrong.

have a look
God bless

Friday, December 18, 2009

The importance of Context in interpreting the Scriptures

In the book "Scripture and Truth" edited by D.A Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Carson makes the wonderful comment that speaks to the importance of considering the context of a passage.
Regarding Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord'. As the heavens are higher than the earth ( now that has implications for Science doesn't it ? - gw ) so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Carson says "The context makes it evident that the categories do not concern competing logic systems or the like ( as though God operates by a different logic system than man - gw ), rather they are essentially moral. The previous verse exhorts 'Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts' Isa 55:7. Man's thoughts are to be bought into conformity with God's thoughts not by abandoning logic but by repentance."

Now there's something to mull over - perhaps we could use it when we gather together to Praise Him and Hear his Word and minister to one another.
In Christ,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Climate Warming - is it hysteria or should we be careful?

I have many questions about the whole global warming scenario. Is the hysteria a wake up call or should we be a little more aware of what stands as evidence and the part of motives of the people involved?
It seems to me that pseudo science is offered at times to induce people to accept massive political and power changes to our societies than are warranted. Al Gore's "An Incovenient Truth" seemed one of the more extreme in this tale, and it certainly requires discernment and careful analysis of the evidence along with the underlying unstated presuppositions which are most of the time left out of the discussion and presentation of the "evidence".

Irrespective of which way the evidence leads I for one believe that Christians ought to look after their environment. We are not to abuse it, rip it off, but care for it and I see this as rooted in the creation mandate of Genesis 1. See my blog on this.

However one place to consider are the people over at The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

One of their articles has the following nifty little poem which struck my fancy.

A doctor fell in a deep well
and broke his collar bone.
The moral: Doctor, mind the sick
and leave the well alone.

This famous poem arrives, though somewhat absurdly, at a good moral: Tend to the sick, not the well. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” We should examine the debate, science, and economics of global climate change in light of this principle, arriving at a responsible course of action.

Debate: “The time for argument is over,” say countless environmentalist politicians. “All the scientists agree.” But is there really a consensus in favor of anthropogenic ("man-made") catastrophic global warming theory? Not a chance! Marc Morano, of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently published the report, ”More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims.” So much for “consensus.” Besides, as Copernicus, Columbus, and others have demonstrated, “consensus” proves nothing (except, sometimes, where the money and power are).

look up the rest of the article and ponder what it is saying.

In Christ,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Culture Wars - Catherine Millet

Cultural wars – Catherine Millet
The French writer who has made her sexual promiscuity public in her books has to some degree shocked the literary and art world. It’s most likely dismissed by Christians as being exhibitionist and immoral however we do well to see what is actually going on here in her writing and more so in her life which is a lived out world view. Let’s be frank here, her writing is pornographic and in that sense detestable from our perspective of the Christian Worldview, but let’s go further and see how her worldview stacks up under an internal critique, using her own words and experiences – does it still hold together as a worthwhile system? [1] It's at this level that the cultural wars are to be fought as a Christian, no in slanging matches or in fearful ignoring of what is going on around us.

She seems to me to be the child of Kierkegaard and Sartre and Camus, those existentialists who threw out reason and objective Truth and took on subjectivity as the arbiter of right and wrong, good and bad. Truly you see in her actions and attitudes that all that matters is the experience. As with Kierkegaard, all that matters is personal experience, and no ones else’s “truth” invalidates mine because it is mine, and theirs is theirs. Yet such subjectivism and individualism must I think devolve into mysticism, where the irrational triumphs over the rational and people are alienated from each other more and more.

Observing this MacArthur says of such a system, what I call this existential worldview, that it has no integrity. “Those who espouse it cannot live with the repercussions of their own illogic.”[2]

In practice a man cannot totally reject [ rationality ], however much his system leads him to it, unless he experiences .. some form of mental breakdown”[3]

And this I believe is exactly what you see in the life of Catherine Millet. The above observations by MacArthur and Schaeffer indicate for us what we might expect as ramifications for Millet’s Worldview.

Her writing, especially as found in her ‘The sexual life of Catherine M’ has found wide readership being translated into 40 languages and selling more than 5 million copies worldwide. It depicts her proclivity for sexual encounters with whoever, where ever and whenever, even attending orgies, all the time whilst married to Jacques Henric who himself knew what was going on.
As she says in one interview:

The sensation that one was glorying in this unbelievable freedom, this transcendence. I look back on it with nothing but pleasure. It was important to me, to my identity, my ego, but it wasn’t an addiction.”[4]

No it wasn’t an addiction but a worldview where she is the ultimate authority on right and wrong, good and evil. Where she determines what is right for her. It reaches almost the status of religion where above she says the so called freedom was an experience of “transcendence”.[5]
What really rocked her world though was when she found out her husband had himself been having affairs all the way along. His unfaithfulness “knocked her sideways; she describes being unable to sleep or breathe; suffering wild fits of rage, feeling her heartbeat falter. At times she was banging her head against the wall.”

As Francis Schaeffer referred to, she is finding herself below the line of despair, which is where the existentialist with his worldview is.

It is the moment of crisis because no man is an island. They exist in community and the fundamental community is that of God and family. Where one has friendship and trust and love with the opposite sex within the plan of God, within marriage. Where is intimacy when one lives as a self-determining authority? Where is integrity when you set the standards only for yourself and others determine their own standards? What we have in Catherine Millet at this point is the clash of her worldview with reality. That she is hurt, feels cheated and ignored is not surprising for the Christian who understands that sexual encounter is far more than a physical encounter, it is the becoming of one flesh as God in His Word proclaims. Elsewhere she proudly proclaims that the sex act is like an empty pocket [6] into which people put different things, like love as in “if you love me you’ll..” or even money or as in her case “pleasure” or so she claims but her anguish expressed above and the beating of her head against the wall reveals that she is really in denial. She is as Romans’ 1 tells us suppressing the truth about God, and one of the results of this is abandonment to abnormal sex where true passion and pleasure are destroyed.

What I find interesting is what seems to be prevalent today in out society of doing what’s right in your own eyes, of being the self-legislators of “truth” does not end up satisfying people. That even whilst searching everywhere in ways like this there is still for many a deep hunger for social relationship, for community, and more so with one special person, where love and intimacy and acceptance will be found. No matter how far people rebel against God and run, they are left only in despair and loneliness and loss of intimacy which themselves point to the reality that they are the absolutes they have abandoned in their rebellion against God.

I am not recommending you read Catherine Millet’s book, indeed I wouldn’t want you to because the language is so explicit it’s demeaning. Rather I want you to see that she is like so many others who run from God and attempt to make themselves the arbiters of Truth only to end up in shallowness and a world lacking intimacy and worth and love.

I would also hope that in God’s Grace she might hear of the good news of the gospel message that alone can release people from such bondage.

your brother in Christ,

1. Some see her work as porn as the new art, but I have no interest in arguing against that view here, but rather the more important question of whether such a worldview implodes upon itself into despair.
2. John MacArthur ‘Reckless Faith’ Crossway Books 1994 pg 27.
3. Quoted in MacArthur ‘Reckless Faith’ pg 27.
4. Mind Games by Jon Henley ’Life’: The sun-Herald Magazine Dec 6th 2009 pg 21
5. Mind Games by Jon Henley ’Life’: The sun-Herald Magazine Dec 6th 2009 pg 21

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unity in the Faith -

Unity is such a buzz word and rightly so. It does and should urge us to seek a fellowship which is God's body gathered together to serve Him and each other. A place where people have community and care for one another.
But what makes the local church different from a R.S.L or a golf club where people meet together and enjoy each others company?
The local church is different because Biblical Unity is always based upon Truth. It's never mere emotionalism or desire or having a common goal.
Paul in Philippians 4 pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other, to be likeminded. Yet the likemindedness spoken of here has to do with "in the Lord". There is never an injunction in the Scriptures to "Unity at all cost", Unity requires discrimination.
Indeed in Philippians, as the great preacher Martin Lloyd Jones pointed out,

they are exhorted "to stand fast in the Lord" Just like he'd exhorted the Corinthian Church "to stand firm in the faith" 1 Cor 16:13 Similarly, Phil 1:27 "Stand firm in the one spirit". All these suggest the same thing. To stand firm in the Faith"
Here is not unity at the expense of Truth, here [ there ] is no unity with those who deny the deity of Jesus.

Martin Lloyd Jones speaks of the issue of unity in the context of the ecumenicalism of his day. One is to stand fast in the the Lord and that is to stand fast concerning the truth of the Lord.

We need to remember that when Paul speaks to Euodia and Syntyche that these are fellow Christians, those he speaks of in 4:3 whose "names are written in the book of life." They are the opposite of the dogs of Philippians 3:2 who all are to be on guard against. These two women are not false teachers riling against reach other but fellow saints whom he pleads with. As our passage tells us "they are in the Lord" yet their quarelling with each other is detrimental to fellowship and so Paul pleads with them to stop.
What we can say then from our passage is that these two were not arguing over some doctrine, some teaching of God's Word. If they had been we would have expected rightly for Paul to exhort the elders at Phillipi to correct their errors or where they lacked in teaching and urge them to be reconciled. Or if they had been two eagerly checking out what the other claimed Scripture said against Scripture, then I expect Paul would have applauded then as Acts 17 might suggest regarding the Bereans. Of course if that endeavour was being unkind and not seeking the others good then I believe he would have surely rebuked them about that, but I don't think that their problem was grounded in a dispute over Scriptures teaching, and that's why Paul pleads with them to stop and be likeminded.

What more can we learn from God's word to us about Unity here? Perhaps you might suggest something?
your brother in Christ,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Understanding Hermeneutics - the first step

When considering hermeneutics some are a bit put off by the fact that some begin by quoting Scripture as providing the contours, the boundaries as it were for proper hermeneutics, hermeneutics which is the proper method of Interpreting Scripture. They see this as perhaps circular reasoning and are maybe embarrassed by it.
Let me suggest that this same unease is encountered by some who study and debate Christian apologetics. They are uneasy about beginning with Scripture. They think that this somehow is a refusal to find “common ground” with “the unbeliever” or “the seeker”. ( if there is such as person as a seeker in the Bible’s sense of the term. ) and that such a method commits the fallacy of circular reasoning. Furthermore in such debates from Christians discussing apologetics you find the fear that if the believer begins with Scripture, then all that will ensue with the unbeliever is a “shouting match” where the believer says “God says” and the unbeliever rejoins “Who says” or perhaps a seemingly reasonable argument that “we must not assume the very thing we are trying to prove”.
What is often forgotten is first of all the motive for the Christian to do apologetics, that is offer a defence for what the Christian faith is, is his faithful response to the word of God found in 1 Peter 3 “Always be ready to give an answer … the reason for the hope you have.” And the reason he is motivated by this is because the Lord God has already worked in his heart to convict him of his sin against God, brought him to repentance and filled him with his Holy Spirit. That is, God has transformed him, and that is the reason why he wants to obey 1 Peter 3:15. It is only a Christian, one transformed by God already who wants to do apologetics with his unbelieving neighbour.
That is the foundation for all he does as a Christian. So methodologically he begins apologetics with his understanding of the unbeliever as a sinner, one in rebellion against the Lord God. Then he takes a two pronged approach to the unbeliever. He reasons with him to show that his worldview, the unbeliever’s worldview – whether it be naturalism or a even a religious worldview, is incoherent, it just doesn’t provide for meaning and reason and love and ethics and right and wrong and science and the like. Then he asks him if he can share about the Christian Worldview of the bible that does provide and account for these things and he can speak of the Creator of all, God, who is personal and Sovereign etc, Who is outside of His Creation and yet enters into it to relate to man, and how man sinned and rebelled and how God in His wisdom and plan sent Jesus, Who is God, into the world to redeem Him, etc.
In the end it has to be assumed, that the unbeliever is in rebellions against the God who is his Creator and Creator of all, even though he does know him. Rom 1. The unbeliever is actively and continually suppressing that knowledge.
So what we need to understand here from this illustration from apologetics is that methodologically it is reasonable and coherent to argue from Scripture right from the very start in any endeavour we take as a Christian, and ever so much more when it comes to hermeneutics.
Thus we begin our discussion of correct hermeneutics, that is, how one can rightly interpret the bible by quoting Scriptures that make it clear that:
1. Scripture is God’s Word. Inspired, breathed out. 1 Tim 3:16.
2. Scripture has to be accurately handled. 2 Timothy 2:15 “accurately handling the Word of Truth”.
3. Scripture is Truth. 2 Tim 2:15.
4. Scripture is clear though it has some passages that are hard, but not impossible to understand. So 2 Peter 3:15-16. It just means a lot of hard effort needs to be put in, indeed in 2 Tim 2:15 it requires “a workman”, one who puts in much effort! In Deut 6:6-7 Moses tells the Israelites to teach these words to their children, to discuss them. The assumption is that it can be understood. Then in the reading and application of the book of the law in Nehemiah 8:8, it says the scribes ”read and gave the sense of the Scriptures” Now there’s a good reminder of the role of the elder in expository preaching of the word to God’s people. Then Jude 3 assumes that Christians can understand the word of God for we all are to “contend for the Faith once for all delivered.”
No doubt there are others to add, but these at least are a minimum.

your brother in Christ,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What happens if you take Genesis 1 as semi poetic

If you happen to study the issue of how a christian is to interpret Genesis 1 you will no doubt find a small number of people who take the genre of Genesis 1 to be semi poetic.
I actually read yesterday on the net that Rob Bell takes the even stronger position of calling it poetic, even though most commentaries point out that it is certainly not Hewbrew poetry as found for example in the Psalms. Have a read of Wenham's Commentary on Genesis 1-15 where this is addressed.
But a few take the supposed lesser position of calling it semi poetic.
Now even though I don't believe it can be taken as semi poetic, after all, finding a few repetitive phrases or even a triadic structure that some see in parallel days of 1&4; 2&5; 3&6 doesn't make something semi poetic, let's for a moment assume they are right and see what follows from taking it that way.
If it is semi poetic then day, morning and evening do not function in the specific and clear way they seem to. Indeed as one advocate of this approach says for example about the creation of Eve from Adam's rib, this is just "a wonderful literary expression of the closeness between the sexes." In that case everything in Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally but poetically, even though it is asserted that this does not deny that Genesis 1 is historical.

Given all that we now meet a methodological problem in that when they get to 1:26f they suddenly switch hermeneutical horses and call that literal, not poetic since they still want to claim man is made in the image of God.
What this tells me is that this issue is very much a hermeneutical issue. And what's more, proponents of the semi poetic view are being arbitrary in their taking of Genesis 1 as semi poetic.
And that is totally irrespective of having to address the issue of the whole nature of poetry being somewhat subjective.
This is a very serious and difficult problem for those who advocate taking Genesis 1 as semi poetic and it is something they have to deal with.

What do you think?

In Christ,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Apologetics methodology - reaching our culture where it is at.

Pastors wake up! we are past Josh McDowell's plaid trousers. To put it another way -
Pastors, we are not in Kansas anymore. At least Dorothy had the perception to realise that she wasn't in Kansas anymore, unlike many pastors and evangelists today. Back in the late 60's or early 70's I had the pleasure of watching a movie involving Josh McDowell speaking about Christianity and the Evidence that demands one make a verdict about Jesus. It was relevant and informative and challenging, for in those days many were asking the question about evidence for the christian faith.
I remember the laughter however when Josh, appearing before a University crowd came on the screen dressed in plaid trousers. At the time something culturally relevant for Americans but not so with Australians where Blue Jeans was the "in thing".
Thirty odd years on however, we have Pastors who just don't get it that those sorts of answers that Josh gives don't cut it anymore in evangelism purely because most unbelievers are not asking those questions anymore.
These Pastors who quote McDowell are in effect wearing plaid trousers without any awareness that the culture has moved on.
Our Culture has moved on. Far fewer have any basic understanding of the Bible or the Christian Faith. It's revealed partly by the unbelievers best known verse which isn't John 3:16 but rather "Do not judge". Most unbelievers think that objections to Christianity have won the day. Many live by unexamined assumptions about life where beliefs are picked up by adding them to your plate from the smorgasbord of beliefs and chosen on the basis of pragmatism only. What "works for me" seems to be the guiding motive in what people believe today. They accept half-baked worldviews such as postmodernism with any investigation or deep thinking about what is involved. The Closing of the American Mind is aptly descriptive of the Australian scene and indeed most Western advanced countries. But surely it is tragic if this is the situation of our pastors also.

Some might think that apologetic method is not important for the Christian, he just needs to tell others about Jesus. But this is both simplistic and untrue. It ignore that Paul shows a clear method of being culturally relevant to unbelievers and showing them that their worldview is a house of cards and that Christianity alone makes sense of it all. In Acts 17 Paul helps us see the importance of what he elsewhere calls "pulling down fortresses." The unbeliever is shown how man has 'a worldview of choice' that is internally incoherent, for example he makes idols of the same wood he uses to warm himself by the fire.
And we need to repeatedly hear that Evangelising doesn't mean everybody responds positively as we see clearly from Acts 17, indeed Paul is denigrated and maligned by some of his hearers but such responses are not a reason to refrain from proclaiming the gospel message.

Isn't this something we take for granted, this cultural awareness in evangelism - when preparing missionaries for the mission field. We do this as an integral part of the training we do when sending missionaries overseas to the Chinese or Africans. We learn the culture and language so as to be able to communicate and not needlessly offend by saying inappropriate things or using gestures in the wrong manner. So why are we so reticent at home within our own culture?
Is it that we are so cut off, or perhaps it's the opposite of being so absorbed by our culture? that we are not aware that our professing of evangelistic truth is not hitting home and we blame the lack of response to being due to hardened hearts or refusal to turn to God.

I hope all of us will spend some more time in pondering this as we seek to take the good news to those without the Lord Jesus Christ.

Your brother,

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Suffering and the Economy

Often after watching the evening news I am forced to ponder the behaviour of politicians here and abroad in regard to the global financial meltdown.
Are their enacted and proposed solutions viable? Will they work out in the end for those whose only hope is in pragmatism? Or will it come crashing down like a deck of cards in a tornado? a disaster much worse than what has happened in the last 16 months with the crashing global economies.
I regularly see advertisements on television by superannuation funds saying that though times are tough we must look to the long term regarding our superannuation. That it will return to the good ol times of prosperity once again. I get the same speel from my frequent supperannuation investment reports encouraging me to further invest!

Yet at present we see America spiralling into further debt that must end in dire consequences for all. They say their current debt is a mere 7 trillion dollars but the real amount of unfunded liabilites when you add their medicare and social security is closer to 100 trillion. Think of it, their economy is only a 10 trillion dollar economy and their debt at it's simplest calculated level is 7 trillion! Who could run a household and not be bankrupt on those kind of figures?

We do well to heed the words of Lawrence Reed as reported over at Wayne Israel's blog, Christianworldview.
"[The corrections introduced by Governemnt] are preventing the necessary adjustments from cleansing the economy and is putting us on a reckless path to inflation, debt and national bankruptsy."

"Government and it's unconscionable debt are spiralling out of control. This must stop or financial disaster looms."

He correctly alludes to the collaspse of character that is behind this fiscal lunacy.

I understand the positiveness of politicians in the face of financial collapse, they worry that their negative comments could send the economy further into crisis, and perhaps they do indeed operate on what Reed says is the Keynesian school of economic thought - see the above linked article, however I see overall they are failing to lead the country and act responsibly. What is required is indeed a proper level of integrity, not just pragmatism or economic rationalism which here in Australia was actually the backbone of Liberal federal government rule, but seems to be also that of Labour!

Overall, we trust our Lord and God through all crisis, but that doesn't mean we have to be uninformed or naive about possible consequences. And more importantly for Christians, is our character and that of our children being honed by our Lord to withstand the difficulties that await all due to economic failure of whole economies? We need to resist the mindset of our culture that we can have it all and we can have it now. Our mindset is that in Christ we already have all that is important.

In Christ,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The different Worldview of Suffering and trust

In Job 13:15 we read a challenge to us all in our worldly thinking. We read of Job who after much suffering says "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."

How different is this worldview than our daily perspective? Remember how Daniel's friends made a similar trust declaration in the Lord God when facing the fiery furnace.

Daniel 3:17 "If it be so, our Lord God whom we serve is able to deliver us from this burning fiery furnace ; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up."

Their attitude is that either way, their God will deliver them, either out of the furnace or through death!

Our God, the Creator redeemer and Sustainer of all things is all powerful and trustworthy, what a Great God.


Some Guidance for young pastors

What is important in the ministry of a new pastor? What goals should he have for his ministry, what should be his focus and what areas should he expend his energies on?

These are important questions and sadly ones that are not really reflected upon and counsel sought at the beginning of one's ministry. Just this weekend I was talking to a pastor who had been in ministry for over 15 years and the last 7 odd as a senior pastor of a large growth church. He was on long service and reflecting on his ministry. Especially having moved to an already growing church how does he direct and focus them towards biblical goals. His dilemna was not have a "history" with them from the start, the kind of deep relationships that really should characterize our ministry lives.

I reminded him that a pastor should be torn betwen two poles, that of being in his study and engrossed in the Word of God, writing sermons and Bible studies and contrasted to this, at the other pole being out with people, talking to them, fellowshipping and guiding them and building personal relationships.

Of course I have heard ministers say you should not form close relationships with your flock, that you shouldn't have friendships among the people you minister to, but I believe this is nonsense. I have seen it at it's extreme where people have told me they have never stepped inside of the rectory / manse, let alone had a meal there! How tragic.

One of the traits of an elder is that he be hospitable, that he be hospitable towards strangers, and my point is that if his heart is like this towards strangers then surely it is the same with his people.

But consider how the apostle Paul acted towards those he'd evangelised and taught. I see deep love and care and comitment to them. He talks to them as friends.

So what a pastor has is two foci - the Word of God and people.
In his ministry two major involvement are preaching the Word of God faithfully week after week and caring for people, building relationships. They primarily are worthy of expending his energy upon.

Of course his family is a priority and indeed they are part of his ministry and part of "his flock" and so spending time with them isn't something he should feel guilty about of have to justify time wise. In act it's helpful to block out periods for them specifically, just as he would for any other people he ministers and builds relationships with.

But you say, ministry has so much other things that creep in. True but you need to be discerning and make true priorities. For example we have administration to do, but it should never crowd out the other two foci.

something we all need to reflect upon


Friday, July 31, 2009

Australian Coin Collecting - a really good introduction

Here's the second great newspaper article from the Sunday Telegraph 1964. It's old currency valuation but at least you get the idea of what to look for and what it was worth back then.
Enjoy collecting your pennies.

Australian Stamp collectors - the best introduction.

I recently was at my mother's home cleaning it up after she passed away in May when I found a couple of really informative newspaper articles on Stamps and coins.
Here's the first one on stamps - Australian stamps of course. Written by Jack Cato in 1963. It is old but you get the idea of valuable stamps from back then.

hope you enjoy reading about them if you are interested in stamps.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Leviticus 1

The following is a Sermon on Leviticus 1 without having worked through the whole of Leviticus so I certainly could make emendations.

Who has read the book?

It seems pretty clear that some books of the bible are viewed both by Christians and preachers as being almost in the too hard basket.
Some preachers certainly view the book of Revelation as being a bit hard and they avoid preaching on it suggesting as one pastor once told me at the end of his career that it was too confusing to understand and he'd never preached on it. This despite the fact that the book of Revelation itself claims to be an unveiling not a cloaking of Who Jesus is!

With the book of Leviticus things are only slightly different.

How many have read the book, let alone heard a sermon on it?

Too many preachers have a penchant for only preaching the New Testament. Sure the book of Leviticus has subjects that at times don't appear relevant to us as Christians, for example all those chapters about regulations regarding infections and childbirth and mildew, and how about the "ordination" of the Priests, but that really reflects a poor understanding of the book itself.

So let's get into this book that so many ignore.

The book of Leviticus is part of the Torah, the first five books of Moses because he is the one who wrote them. He is said to have written them during the Exodus from Egypt so one of the things you need to ask is what did all this mean for Moses' hearers? What would it have meant for them to implement these laws?

Those are very good questions, something that can help us ponder what they then mean to us.

In verse 1 we read that "The Lord called to Moses."
Sometimes we miss the obvious because we don’t pay attention to detail.
Literally, the verse is “and He { the Lord ] called to Moses.”
Do you see that little word “and”. What’s it there for? It’s there to connect it to what came previously. And that’s the book of Exodus. You see there’s no break in God’s Word. It’s not as though the books of the Old Testament are a mere collection of different stories from different times. Thematically they connect! Theologically they connect!

From one little Hebrew word we are to get insight into what’s going on in Leviticus 1.

We could actually get there without this by asking a simple question.

From where did he call?

God is not distant in heaven! From the last chapter of the book of Exodus chapter 40 verses 34f we read that the Glory of the Lord is in the tabernacle. This is important for us to think through.

Back in Egypt whilst the people were in Egypt from the time of the famine, a new king arose who did not know about Joseph, and he persecuted the people of God by putting them under harsh labor. Exod 1.

And later we read God hears the groaning of the people of God who as slaves were suffering in Egypt. Exodus 2:23-25. “and God remembered his Covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” That is, God had a history of promise with His people. It began with Abraham, then continued through Isaac and Jacob. God, we are being told, stands by His Promise.

What was His promise to Abraham? To make a people a nation, who He would bless, who would be a blessing, and He would stand by them. Genesis 12:1-3. So He selects Moses to represent His people, and we read in chapter 3 that the Lord God speaks to him out of a burning bush.

After the rescue, after salvation! Where he delivered them out of Egypt, just like we see in Exodus 20 where He reminds them of this deliverance before he tells them how they are to live in the 10 commandments. Then after all that, towards the end of the book of Exodus we read of the making of the tabernacle and the Glory of the Lord, that is, His presence comes to the tabernacle when the cloud, which guides them through the 40 years in the wilderness, comes over the tabernacle.

So God, who is with the people, His people, calls to Moses.

It is further in verse 1 of Leviticus 1 that we see the Lord God speaks to Moses. God is not Silent. He is able to be understood. He speaks and man is to listen.

So just what is God declaring? He tells us of the need for a sacrifice, the need for a burnt offering that is a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Three times this is repeated, and as I often like to remind people, God does not waste his breathe. He doesn't talk like us who just like to hear our own voice. When He repeats himself in the bible it's important. and so here we read three times what is pleasing to God, vs 9, 13 &17.

It's an offering from the herd, or from the flock or of birds. If anyone makes an offering this is how you are to do it.
You are to do it the way God says.
The Priest, that is those of the family of Aaron, vs 11 are to sprinkle the blood on the altar. Yet it's the person making the offering that slaughters the animal, they are the one's who we'd say "get their hands bloody" !
They are the one's who take the life of the animal.

And it will cost the offerer. It’s to be from the domesticated animals, his flock, not a wild animal, So you will see that it will be costly economically.

Why all this blood? Why all this death? It's because sin is serious! The sinner needs to bring a sacrifice for his sin. Death is required for sin. In the offenders place death must occur. And the offender is to place his hands on the animal in identification, in acknowledgment that this is what is happening.

{{ Yet whilst it is serious and while it is to be seen as an offering for sin, it is also an offering of worship which the Lord God is happy with. You could miss this point easily unless you compare it with later sacrifices where it is not a pleasing aroma to the Lord – all because the last two which are for expiation of sin are not dealing with communion as such. But we’ll see this when we get to them. }} – See Constable and work this through.

What I find interesting is that man, unbelieving man denies two of the clear points of this passage. Today man denies that God speaks. He denies that God has made His mind clear. They deride the bible. They continually say "Has God said", just as Satan asked Eve in the Garden of Eden.

And secondly they try to find excuses all the time for sin. They give it other names, they blame everything but the sinner. They redefine adultery to having an "affair". They blame his environment for what man does. Suggesting that if we only change his environment, or educate him that man won't do what we are forced at times to identify as evil.

However, we don’t understand a passage by merely contrasting it to how the world rejects it, to use it as a ramrod in our culture wars as T. D. Gordon would say.

Instead we still need to ask What Israel would have thought of this. What Moses hearers would have thought of what God required. Clearly if you want to please God, sacrifice needs to be made for our sin. If one is to be in communion with the Lord God sacrifice is required.

Now let’s see here that “the sons of Israel,” verse 2, “the Israelites” are the covenant people of God because of God’s promise to Abraham. They do not make this sacrifice to earn salvation. They make sacrifice so they can come back into communion with God once they have sinned.

Think about that for a moment. It has immense implications for your understanding of Who God is and who Israel are. This is for God’s believing people. This is for those who sprinkled blood on the doorposts in Egypt in faith so as to be delivered and have the angel of death Passover their eldest child.

These sacrifices are the means by which Israel sought and sustained their communion with God. The way God required it! The sense of God’s presence in all this is clearly brought out in the words used throughout – all this is done “before the Lordvs 3, that is He is present – and you have to grasp the severity of all this.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt there were some 1.5 million people, and by this time there could at least have been two million. How do you carry out sacrifices on that scale for sin? It's not a picture of white robed priests and those that cut the throat of the animals in fine white linen but of blood covered offenders. Where in a desert do you get all that water required to clean your hands and clothes?

Is such a system workable? And if it isn't what does that mean? This is what the Lord God requires. So you cannot make excuses. But perhaps, just perhaps this is meant again to teach God's people that sacrifice is required for sin and He would do it through the Messiah, His lamb.

Here we pay attention to the fact that “a male sacrifice is required, one with out blemish.” These are not merely suggesting that The Lord God requires our best, but they are types for Christ, the true sacrifice for sin. READ Hebrews 9:14.

We won’t speculate on the notion that a male sacrifice is required here, for later on we read a female one is acceptable in one of the sacrifices. Yet we can have confidence that being without blemish is important as the New Testament refers a number of times to the lamb of God, Jesus being without blemish. Look at Paul’s quote in N.T.

So in verse 4 it's clearly stated that this sacrifice is for atonement. it carries the idea of sin being dealt with and cleansed, but also of ransom, see Leon Morris, and then also the notion that it accomplishes reconciliation between God and man.

And it further fits well with the Lord God's repeated point to His people throughout the Old Testament that the attitude of those that deal with this sin is important to Him.

You know of course that in a reconciled relationship your attitudes count. Your attitude to the other person matters. If you are ignoring them and don’t listen to them there’s a serious problem isn't there?

So also our attitude to sin is important. Just as the Israelites attitude to sin was important to the Lord. He requires a contrite and broken heart. those that mourn over their sin. He's not looking for someone who is merely perfunctionary about putting on a sacrifice. He's not looking for Priests, who almost mechanically go about their duties.

Consider Isaiah 66:2f "This is the one whom I esteem; he who is humble and contrite in Spirit, and trembles at my word. But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb like one who breaks a dogs neck.... they have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations .. [for] when I called no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened.. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me."

The one the Lord God esteems are those that are humble and contrite in spirit and listen to Him! They respond to what He says. They "tremble at His Word".

This is the same criticism that Jesus make of the Jews and leaders in His day. He pointed out in Matthew 5 what Kingdom people would be like. They are poor in spirit "they recognise their spiritual bankruptsy", They mourn, "mourn over their sin", they thirst for righteousness.

The Kingdom comes with the King not to throw out the Romans, it's not political oppression that is their, the people of Israel’s problem, but sin. Their problem is spiritual, not political.

How are we to see the application here in Leviticus 1?

Of course we recognise for us the immediate truth that Jesus is the final sacrifice, the on Who truly makes us right with God.

But before we jump into what’s in it for me, let’s see what this means for both the Jew and the also the Christian.

What we see here is that to Walk with God, to have communion with God requires sacrifice for our sin. For the Jew, he could not ignore What God requires. He needed to hear with humility that his sin was serious. When Jesus “the Lamb of God” came – and these are that great Old Testament prophet John the Baptists words, - He came to deal with Sin. He is God’s Answer, He the Messiah, is King, the promised King of Israel, and the King who came to die to make atonement for sin.

It tells us God’s ritual to come into His presence,

Can ritual be bad? Of course, and this was Jesus accusation against the Pharisees of his time. They were white washed tombs, cleaning the outside by performing bits and pieces of the law while remaining defiled inside! They needed to recognise who the Messiah was and Why He was there and welcome Him as King and Redeemer and Priest.

More importantly for Israel this book tells them how they can fulfil what God requires and what it means.

Back in Exodus 19:6 they are explicitly told they will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Wow what a privilege, what a standing. What honor.

And do you realise it’s really part of the covenant that God made with Abraham isn’t it – they will be a blessing to the world. This then as God’s continuing revelation helps them understand this come to grips with it.

But how can they be a holy nation when sin rears its ugly head. And when it does how can they commune with a holy God when sin happens?

There’s much more to see about them being a holy nation as the rest of Leviticus tells us – and we will soon see that. [ namely that they are separate, extremely different to the world and the requirements of God here in Leviticus mark them off objectively for all to see, from the nations around them ]

What then about us? For us Christians, what do we learn here?
Isn’t it amazing how the same notion is applied to Christians in 1 Peter2:9 ! You are a kingdom of priests, you are marked off.

And secondly, what are we to do when we sin? How are we to be restored? We understand that When Jesus the lamb of God, died on the cross he paid the penalty even for our future sins, but is there still something we are to do?

Look at 1 John 1:7-9. daily confess our sins and purpose to walk in God’s ways..

Lastly, from God’s word to the Jews, as found in Leviticus 1 we can take heart in the same Hope. The same Lord God who promised Israel, who made His covenant with them and faithfully kept it, is the Same God who holds us. Who transforms us into the likeness of His son Jesus.

What blessing when holiness is so awesome!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Love - love in the New Testament

How often do we hear a sermon and the preacher makes a big deal out of love and yet fails to explain what love he is speaking of?

This becomes quite clear when we understand that in Greek there are four words for love.
There's phileo, eros, agape and storge.
Phileo is speaking brotherly love, such as in philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
Yet it can also be understood more broardly as speaking of "friendship".

Then there's eros - from which we get the word erotic, meaning sexual love. However it can also mean passionate love and sensual desire. The Greek philosophers saw it not as necesarily about "physical attraction" but "appreciation of beauty itself ", that is not necessarily having to do with a person. Yet their notion of love was tied up closely with their search for Truth and Beauty and the good, so it was somewhat focused by those concerns.

Third, we have storge, "affection", that which Parent have towards their children or children towards their parents. It's that which is family love and is the one most often forgotten about.

Last of all and most importantly we have agape - that other person centred love, it is the word used most frequently for the love God shows towards mankind and shown by Jesus. That love we see Jesus exemplifying on the cross, dying for others sin. It is selfless love, doing what is needed for the other person.

As you study the Word of God, and you come across the word love, find out which one is being used as it will broaden and deepen your understanding of the text.

In Christ,

Friday, June 12, 2009

Preaching expository sermons on Leviticus

We have just begun a series of sermons on the book of Leviticus at church and it has spurred me to think about how I would preach through such an Old Testament book as Leviticus.

When you look at the book we quickly see there are many chapters on similar themes, for example sacrifice in chapter 1-5, then the Priesthood from 8-10 and so on. One is then tempted to lump them together and do a wholesale approach like taking the first 5 chapters together and do a thematic sermon for each group. Of course this is not expository preaching which I am committed to, even though there are times when I can see value in doing such a thematic preaching series from the bible.

Still I must ask myself "Have I preached through the book of Leviticus if I leave out chapters like chapter 5 and for the rest skim quietly over the text just drawing out the main theme of each chapter"?

My conclusion is no.

Still, having not preached through Leviticus I admire those who have attempted to preach it, either thematically or through expository preaching of the text. It is a daunting task, one that many leave undone altogether.

I have frequently seen on the internet preachers who take a "narrative" preaching tac with Old Testament books. That is, taking the section before them which can run into many chapters and then giving the general outline of the story and drawing an application from this.

This perhaps for some is prompted by the belief that the Old Testament books are primarily telling the story of Israel's birth as the people of God and then Israel's "story." For some this is then compounded by the view that since the Old Testament in it's early transmission was done orally, then the words and the phrases used are not of central importance. They seem to assume that oral transmission is of lesser accuracy than written transmission.

In practice we see this happen with some Preachers when they get past Genesis 12 with the choosing of Abraham by God. Suddenly they begin to choose a chapter or more at a time to preach from. However this leads to a neutered understanding of what God is teaching. We miss seeing the many connections with what the Lord God has already told Israel and us the readers, earlier.

To highlight just one example, when in Genesis 12 God says "Any one who curses you I will curse"

In this verse the words translated curse are different in these two cases. A point sadly missed by translators.
It says that any who even disdain Israel, God will curse! That gives it a whole different flavour doesn't it?

It tells us that Israel is indeed "the apple of His eye"! They are precious to Him.

If we pick up on this, something picked up from careful hermeneutics of the text and investigating each verse, then we see open for us a perspective that was previously hidden due to our "shallow" reading of the text. [ Again have a good read of T. D. Gordon "Why johnny can't preach" and the failure of preachers to understand the unity and argument and so on of the text. ]

With this perspective about Israel as precious to the Lord God and that God would curse those that even merely disdain Israel, what should the people of God have thought as they related to other nations? Further, do we not also see God's judgment on nations for their attitude and actions towards Israel throughout the Old Testament as fulfillment of this promise God made to Abraham?

That is just one example of taking careful note of what God says in His word. Can one not expect further reward when looking at other Old Testament books?

Some preachers approach to books like Leviticus is to see their importance in terms of generalities, in the sense of seeing types of Jesus prefigured by the sacrificies for example. Their basis for this is something I am intrigued by. Sometimes they justify their approach here by quoting Luke's statement in Luke 24 about Jesus comments to the two on the Emmaus road after His death and Resurrection.

In Luke 24 verse 27 we read "And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." But let's be careful about what Luke is actually saying here. Does it mean that every chapter is talkimg about Jesus as Messiah? Not at all. There are for example chapters that lay out in detail the dimensions of the Temple, how it was to be built, how those set aside were to minister in it, the priests, etc. What we cetainly gain from such chapters is the necessity of a sacrifice for sin, at other times what we see that the Messiah is portrayed through typology, and other times that he is the one promised whom God would send. When the bible speaks of Cain killing Abel it is not speaking in any way directly about Christ, but rather the spread of sin after the fall of Genesis 3. When it speaks twice in Genesis of Abraham passing his wife off as his sister it does not speak of Christ, but of man failing to Trust the promises of the Lord God.

What one can surmise is that Jesus raised with the two on the Emmaus road passages that spoke of Him, one like 2 Sam 7 the promised Messiah, or the promised Messiah of Isaiah 53, "the son" of Psalm 2 and so on.
The point of Jesus' teaching is that they all pointed to Him, the annointed one, the suffering servant, the Messiah.

Next time I will give a simple outline of what I see as some of the important preachable points of Leviticus 1.

In Christ,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why Johnny can't preach - T D Gordon

Every now and then you read something or hear someone speak and it just thrills you to bits. This happened for me a week ago when I listened to the online interview of T. David Gordon by Michael Horton over at the Whitehorse Inn.

I have been mulling over the issue of media and preaching taking note of people like Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan for about the last 6 months. And suddenly I hear someone addressing the concerns in a much more clear and well argued way than I could.

T. David Gordon wrote a little book called 'Why Johnny can't Preach', its sub title being "The media have shaped the Messengers." He's not talking here about liberal left wing journalists pushing an anti-christian agenda through their media outlets. Rather he suggests that the types of media in our modern age, for example television, are having a major impact on up and coming preachers. The reason he called his book Johnny can't preach is that it follows on from the notions that are found in books such as Johnny can't read and Johnny can't write.

Media ecology is a term used to describe "how changes in dominant media alter the human and social environment." pg 16. we need to acknowledge and deal with a culture, one which we are included in, that is image based and has a predominance of electronic media. Where speaking on the phone is not the same as communicating via a letter.

T. David Gordon has voiced a concern that you find among some who fervently desire a real return to expository preaching. Not some glib allusion to a verse here and there but a solid exposition of the verses and their meaning and how they fit into a cogent unity and structure. Too often Preachers are settling to deliver stories or pick swaths of text to cover in one sermon, and yet the preacher fails to show the unity and structure of the text.

When people complain about a bad sermon or show distinterest in what is preached we are not allowed to wriggle out of it by saying that it's due to short attention span or spiritual apathy. Many times it's due to our poor preaching. We have failed to show them the development of the argument and the movement of God's Word.

Gordon speaks about the following points that should characterise a sermon.
1. Unity.
2. Order.
3. Movement. - each point takes us somewhere.
4. Point. - so arrive at a conclusion with real force, the person puts forth a powerful claim to us.
5. Textual fidelity - we have no authority, the Scriptures have that authority. These words are God's words. So we understand God is speaking to us.
6. Instruction. - to see what that biblical truth is.
7. evangelical tone.

He also says that if people heard a good sermon every week their attention span would grow. I didn't know this but in early American history it wasn't uncommon for people to go and listen to debates that lasted 6 hours, with one speaker giving his point for 3 hours and then another responding!

Some great quotes:
"Preachers are supposed to give people bread, not the bread factory."
"Our sheep do not need gourmet meals, but they do need good, solid nourishment."

Gordon makes the comment in another interview that at the end of the sermon we should ask - did you understand the point of that sermon?
Was there something holding it all together or was it just a collation of sermonettes? Now there's a challenge to preachers as they prepare their sermons.

In Christ,

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Emergent conversation- good or bad? or perhaps in the middle

It isn't uncommon today to hear the word "conversation" or the phrase "having a conversation" in emergent circles in regard to talking about doctrine or methods of doing church or missiology.

Now what has struck me about this word conversation is how it was previously spoken of by Neil Postman in 'Amusing ourselves to death', a book he published back in 1985. Well before many of the emerging or emergent crowd were out of nappies.

First of all, I need to reject the objection that I am lumping emergents and emerging together, that I am taking them as synonymous. While I do see them as able to be distinguished, they do at times overlap and as pyromaniacs pointed out over at their blogspot, emergent can be treated as "a major influential element in the emerging conversation".

Secondly, so as not to fall prey to accusations of 'the genetic fallacy', that some may take what I say here to be saying that something is dubious because of its origin ( although it is at times proper to speak of such bad origins when satan is the source of something! ) I want to reject that notion up front. I am not saying that emergents picked up anything from Postman. Indeed I think he has some very valuable things to offer us to reflect upon and we and emergents could have learnt something valuable from Postman. While the terminology of "conversation" as some emergents use it seems to have strong similarities with Postman, the similarities have more to do with what Postman was countering. Listen to what Postman actually said back in 1985.

Postman used the word "conversation:" metaphorically to "refer not only to speech but to all techniques and technologies that permit people of a particular culture to exchange messages." pg 6. Further "in this sense all culture is a conversation or more precisely , a corporation of conversations , conducted in a variety of symbolic modes."

He then goes on "our attention here is on how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of content can issue from such forms"

Sounds difficult doesn't it but it really isn't.

Consider his example of smoke signals by American Indians. They would not have been able to include philosphical discourse since they are insufficiently complex to do that. You wouldn't be able to have two indians conversing about the nature of existence using smoke signals. He said they'd run out of wood and blankets before the second axiom. The media just doesn't allow for philosophical argument.

I just love what Neil Postman says. It's so thought provoking. He seems to be describing exacty the situation of "conversation" that we find so prevalent today among emergents.
The trouble is, I think the emergents in many cases are settling for smoke signals.

Here I agree I need to carefully set out how I see emergents connection to the notion of "conversation" as Postman uses it.

I am not refering to the common notion of emergents as part of an "emerging conversation" which refers to a continued dialogue with others that the evangelical movement would have seperated from due to their unorthodox beliefs. I am using "conversation" to address the characteristics of an "emergent church service" such as Dr Sam Harbin described as follows: ( and has been described in magazines and newspaper articles about the emergent church )

"A place where ancient christian art decorates the walls, meditative activities at different stations around the room, ..." or there's prayer labyrinths, and someone writing in a worship journal, and or perhaps a stool on which sits at "pastor" having a discussion about christian things instead of a sermon and people mold playdoh into some model to represent the talk. A video screen off to one side of the room showing a plethora of images covering many subjects flashing by rapidly, and so on.

What we have going on here is the younger generations enthusiasm and predilection towards the media tools of the 20th and 21st century. Using different media to put across the gospel message as well as to teach the bible.

Now it's in that regard that what Postman was talking about has major ramifications in relation to Preaching. There are those who love to roll out the statement that "it doesn't matter what media you use, you just have to be faithful and true regarding the content", whereas the method they insist, can change, they declare they are faithfully keeping the message the same.

What they fail to understand is that the medium can distort, and even negate the message or be totally inadequte to convey the message.

They need to think more about Marshall McLuhan who said "the medium is the message".

Let me say that some emergents in their conversations about doctrine are so reliant on sound bites and unsubstantiated opinion and lacking any depth of argument that they are just like Indians, sending up smoke signals. If I permit myself a sound bite, as the saying goes, "one ought to be aware of smoke and mirrors". What is being "discussed" lacks just what Postman saw as missing in Public Discourse, any real depth of argument.

Now please don't accuse me of similar lack of depth of argument. I will readily admit there's much more to be argued, I just think it's been adequately said by Postman and lately by T. David Gordon.

In the meantime, just reflect on secular media and their impact. Video hits today predominantly visualise sexual themes and the music seems to not be the focus. Indeed sometimes the music is trash and the video is the only artistic part! What's happening is that instead of reflecting upon the words of the music and the message, often the message is visualised in a particular direction. What becomes the focus is the video, not the music. Indeed the music sometimes becomes secondary.

Now what we have among some in the Church is the notion that we shouldn't have to rely just on preaching, since that is so cognitive and word oriented but rather we should be able to include dance and drama and visual art to get the message across. I acknowledge this isn't just a problem found in emergent circles because it is clearly evident in those seeker services of the 90's and in some earlier church services. The point I want to highlight is how we need to think through the whole issue of how different media can detract, distort, or negate the message.

Apart from Scripture itself telling preachers to preach the Word, to declare the Scriptures and explain the sense of the teachings, eg Neh 8 they have also forgotten that other forms can easily distort and even negate the message. Not just that but the form can be inadequate to get the message across anyway, just like the Indians smoke signals. To argue that in the bible the prophets used drama, so therefore we can also use drama, or that Jesus told stories so we also can use the story form, is to confuse us and our calling to edify and equip the saints through the Word with the fact that they are used by God the father to declare exactly what He wanted communicated. We are not prophets in that sense. We are teachers of God's already delivered Word. We are to contend for the faith ( Scriptures ) once for all delivered. Jude 3. We don't make up or bring our own ideas to God's people.

Consider drama - if we think that it's a clear substitute for the preached Word of God we are mistaken. First of all the actors tend to interpret things not written. Certainly they need to thoroughly understand the Biblical or theological point of some story or parable or acted drama in the bible if they are to "act it out." Sadly we see how easy it is to get this wrong, just consider how many books used in teaching children through stories get the point of the passage so totally wrong. Yet even if they get it right, those listening can focus on the wrong thing, firstly because the context of the acted drama has not been given, and it needs to be seen in the biblical context in which it is given. In many cases those we get to do drama are not the pastor-teachers but usually actors in the body who are not often biblically astute about what they are doing. But secondly, our visual sense can take over and override our intellectual assessment, thinking through what is going on. We are so prone to being entertained in our culture that we switch off our mind in the presense of such stimulation.

I am not denying that people can interpret a preacher wrongly. And certainly there are many bad preachers out there - a subject for the next post. Yet it is the Word of God that is a two edged sword, which the Holy Spirit takes and convicts people with. Scripture does not say the Spirit takes drama and uses it that way. The Bereans are lauded because they checked out everything that the apostle Paul said against the Scriptures, the written word. Acts 17. It keeps on coming back to God's Word. Once for all delivered.

We need a bit of thoughtful reflection. Many pastors lament the Biblical illiteracy of many of their flock. But are we encouraging that because of the media we are using? We need to hear "Preach the Word, in season and out of season." We are not there to entertain, or "amuse" but to edify with the Word.

Have a read of Postman's book and reflect on what you are doing.

In Christ,


Thursday, May 28, 2009

About being literal again – hermeneutics

Over at Michael Patton's Reclaiming the mind forum there's a discussion about Steve Gregg and his views on different topics.
In his article at his site Steve has the following observations.
It seems people continue to be confused about what literal means when doing hermeneutics.

Consider Ryrie’s comments and then Steve Gregg's in response.

In discussing the angel fallen from heaven to release the locusts from the pit, Ryrie writes:
“Sometimes the word "star" refers to a heavenly body (as in 8:12). But the word is often used to refer to some kind of intelligent creature, usually an angel (cf. 1:20; Job 38:7). Both meanings are perfectly consistent with plain, normal interpretation. In English we use this word in the same two ways. Literally, a star means an astronomical entity; and equally literally, though as a figure of speech, we use the word to mean a person, like the star of a football game.”
Gregg comments:
"One is tempted to ask whether there is any method of interpretation that would be regarded by such an interpreter as recognizably non-literal, since the use of "a figure of speech" is regarded (when convenient) to be "equally literal" as the ordinary lexical meaning of a word. The applicability of the term "literal" to such usage suggests an almost infinite flexibility in determining what may be called "plain," "normal," and "literal" interpretation.
I have frequently heard teachers claim that, when convenient to their interpretation, "literal" interpretation does not preclude the use of symbolism, parable or figures of speech. I think these people are giving the word a novel new flexibility. I am using the word "literal" as the dictionary and most people understand it, i.e. as meaning "according to the exact meaning; not figurative" other words, I am using it literally."

Here we need to observe that Ryrie was speaking about literal in regard to a word. It is quite a different thing to be speaking about being literal in regard to the meaning of a sentence. It is the context, that is the sentence that provides whether something is to be taken as a metaphor, or figurative, or symbolism and so on. eg “like Bethlehem” the word “like” indicates figurative. So Ryrie is quite correct when he says one understands the word star literally and in it’s historical sense, and then understands the phrase “the star of a football game” as figurative.

Take Gregg’s comments focusing on Revelation.

1. { Dispensationalists speak of } The law of frequent mention:
“All agree that [the number 1000] is used symbolically in Psalm 50 [v.10], but the phrase ‘a thousand years’ occurs six times within the narrative of Revelation 20.”
Then we have Gregg’s comment:
The term “the Lamb” occurs 22 times in Revelation, but this does not make it a literal description of Christ.

This really is nonsense. Of course the mere frequency of a word does not make it a literal description of Christ. Behind the statement of numerical frequency of the title is the Biblical understanding of the Title in regard to Jesus.

The word Lamb is taken literally. It means an animal. However further hermeneutical investigation based on the grammatical historical method tells us that in the Bible a lamb was used in the sacrificial system, so when John the Baptist points to Jesus – clearly a man , a person, as 'the lamb of God' he is pointing to the sacrificial nature of the Son of God here on earth.

We need clarification in these issues, not muddled thinking.

In Christ,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Great Commission - putting the emphasis where it ought to be

In Matthew 28:16-20 we have what is commonly called the Great Commission. Some Preachers have spoken of it sometimes as the Great Ommission since it is often neglected by many Christians.

Of course we don't do that do we? Yet before we can answer that question we need to make sure we have understood it correctly. Where is the emphasis in "Therefore Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

There's a really poor translation around, which isn't really a translation at all but a paraphrase, sadly used by preachers in their teaching and writing of books. It says "Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you." MSG. But this scuttles the impact of the Great Commission.

It's not about merely having head knowledge, having a few instructions about practices Jesus wants us to do but in putting this truth into practice in our very lives.

The central focus is the three verbs, making disciples, baptising and teaching. not in the "go".

What "Going" tells us is that it's to be taken in the sense of "as you are living your lives", not as in the sense of many missionary preachers who use this passage to call people to become missionaries and go overseas to some other culture. As you live your life, going to the supermarket, meeting the neighbor over the fence, getting petrol at the Petrol Station, going to playgroup, at work, having lunch ..

This is like witnessing, as a Christian you are a signpost - the only question is whether you are a good signpost or a bad one. Perhaps the signpost is chipped, it's writing isn't clear, it doesn't clearly tell people the directions, or perhaps it points the wrong way? A Christian by their very lives is a signpost, a witness. And so it is with the Great Commission. As we go about our lives, which have been impacted by Jesus, we are to make disciples, baptise and teach them to obey.

How I need to rely more on God's grace and power through His Spirit as I live my life.

In Christ,

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The No Metanarrative Fallacy

Some of you may have read of the view of many emergents who reject metannaratives, the view that there is one overarching view of the world that is true and correct, claiming it to be abusive and a power trip. They do this having taken on board uncritically the view of postmodernism.

You will often hear "postmodernists" explain either their rejection of a metanarrative or in relation to all religions having part of the truth by using the example of the 6 blind men and the elephant. Where one has hold of the tail and claims this is the reality, another has hold of the trunk and says this is it, another has a leg, and another the ear and so on. Or that each person has partial religious truth and is to be respected for it's their perspective.

Without going into whether this is an epistemological rejection of an overarching view of reality or a rejection of metaphysical perspective per se we can see what they are getting at. It is I believe an illustration used by advocates of religious pluralism and radical skepticism. See Greg Koukle's article The Trouble with the Elephant.

However, have they a case to argue using this illustration or analogy? One thing that is often ignored but pointed out by Leslie Newbingen is that while there are 6 blind men groping around the elephant, we and the narrator of the story actually see the whole elephant. That is, at least the person using the analogy is claiming a total comprehension of reality. They themselves claim to know it all in order to be able to use the analogy in saying each of the 6 blind men only have part of the truth but it is truth as far as it goes and true for them!

You see, the person using this anaolgy is actually usurping the place of God who is omniscient and omniresent. That is, God who is the only one in the position to know everything and know it truly. He alone knows how it all fits together. And some of this he has revealled to us in Scripture. Not every known fact there is, but how it relates to Him as Creator., as Sovereign Personal Triune God.

Grasping this will help immensly in speaking and communicating with the present unbelieving generation.

In Christ,


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The thorn in the flesh of postmoderns - death

Even though I have grave suspicion about whether there is truly a postmoden worldview, this generation has a thorn in their flesh. Despair and grief when friends die inadvertantly such as in car accidents and drug overdoses.

How do you grieve if you hold to naturalism? That all that is is matter. You repond just as the Bible says - without hope! If you believe you just came from slime by chance, then the move into dust is just something that happens.

Os Guiness wrote a great book looking at the state of man searching for meaning and value - calling it "The Dust of Death." What an appropriate title, well before the emergents examined the establishment and the [ counter ] culture.

Can we face death with a different perspective than the unbeliever? Yes.

A couple of weeks ago I had to do the funeral of my mother who died at 89. We actually had a thanksgiving because she was friend of Jesus. She was a christian. That means we don't grieve as the world does because one day we shall meet again.

Here's something I wrote for the funeral.

How do you assess someone's life?
It's got to be more than talking about a person's life from their birth to when they die. Just recently here in Australia Richard Pratt died, and the media gave you the impression that what mattered was his wealth and power.

We also have just had Anzac day where we remember our Veterans, their commitment and achievements and what they gave the rest of us.

But what about a VET's life?

How is that assessed?

Thinking about it - we see soldiers who returned emotionally scarred, others physically scarred.
Is that how you think of them?

Or do you think about their early childhood or their teenage years?

We need to reflect on this because many who are older and suffering and then die, that's the last memory we have of them!
Like some with cancer - you tend to remember their suffering, how difficult it all was.
So How are we to assess mum's life?
All of us here can agree there's much in her life to respect, to admire, to love.

She gave herself to us three children when she didn't have to! Being our stepmother and a widow she could have walked away! But she didn't.

She went without so we could have much.
She went without marrying again. Without that close relationship that's so important to our humanity. To share on an adult level what's so important.

I could talk about her childhood, at Boort, and her parents store, and her army days as a driver.

But what is important is her relationship with Jesus.
Because when we have a relationship with Jesus we have life.
Not mere existence, not scrapping by, but life. Living with meaning. Knowing that God is your Creator and that you are made in His image. That is, you are not just some concoction of chemicals which finally got together and emerged out of the slime.

No, You and I and mum are persons, able to love, care, think, plan hope and share. Mum had learned about Jesus early in her childhood. She had gone frequently to Church. But she was of that generation which saw religion, saw christianity as a private matter. Not one you talked about much with other people.

But I remember a time when all that changed.
When in her reading of some great books by Christians she saw what Christian faith was all about, how it was about being His disciple, walking with Him and doing what pleased Him and not what pleased her.

That's the high point in mums life. When she told me one day she was thinking about joining a bible study group at church.
When her relationship with God and Jesus was her Life!

Not something that we do on sundays and when we pray at night.

That life, means death, physical death is not the end. It's Why for a christian death is not something to be feared.

While alive she had meaning and purpose and value in all that she did. And now that she is passed from us, she is still alive, because she is with our heavenly Father who is Life.

Mum, your legacy to us is that God is in the business of change. He is in the business of changing people to be like his Son Jesus.

We saw you change as you walked with Him.
And you hold out the goal for us to continue to be changed by Jesus day by day.
That is how one can assess a life. One tha tis changed by God. Impacted by Jesus.


Is the emergent church really dead?

Over at Parchment and Pen C. Michael Patten wrote that after 15 years the emergent church is dead.
One could reasonably argue that the emergent church wasn't really a church at all, but mainly a group of authors and blogists who picked up on disatisfaction with some aspects or concrete expressions of those that claim to be Christ's Church in the world.
One definite reaction seems to have been against mega churches that sought to express or impact the culure from a marketing perspective, such as is seen by Willow creek in Chicago and to some extent Saddleback church in L.A.

Cetainly Brian McLaren as an author is still having a wide impact on many "christians" and Tony Jones and his friends at emergent village are likewise putting forth ideas that are far from orthodox, such as their view on hell, homosexuality and the authority of Scripture. It's not that I decry people asking questions but rather the failure of many asking the questions to do serious homework and see the answers which have already in the past of theological study been powerfully offered.

Certainly one can describe many who claim to be emergent or belong to the emergent corral as having accepted the philosophical views of postmodernism, even when they lash out at the evangelical church for having accepted without criticism the assumptions of modernism. Here they are commiting the same blunder they accused the mainstream evangelical church of doing.

However in regard to emegents many are following the mood of postmodernism which really is internally inconsistent and a worldview at odds with a Biblical Worldview.

I want to say more about postmodernism soon, but in the meantime we could perhaps descibe it as really something very old, as being self-legislating in regard to absolutes. Doing what was around in the time of the Judges, where "every man did what was right in his own eyes."

Still where does that leave people today? having moved on from postmodernism are they post-postmodern? Perhaps they are epiphenomenalmoderm? That is, valuing the experiences generated from modernism. Experiences based on the fruits of modernism.

I prefer to call then emodern. They are people who want and use the inventions of the modern era such as computors and ipods and iphones and so on and yet blithely say that there are no absolutes, but the very science which undergirds these inventions requires absolutes. The Logic used in computor hardware has the states of a 1 or a 0 or the state which can be labelled "don't care", there's no fourth option. Computer programming is fiercely absolute in requiring adherence to these laws or things don't work! Just imagine the present 16-25 yr olds reactions if their iphones and laptops suddenly stopped doing what they we designed to do.

Perhaps the generation before us us truly just a reflection of the very logic of solid state hardware, they are heading towards the "don't care", the "whatever" has become a don't care. They seek the experience for experiences sake. But even here they are usually discriminatory. They have not taken Camus or Sarte to their logical conclusion of despair. They don't normally try suicide for the experience.

But overall, is such a discriminatory response livable?

We have a worldview, the Biblical Worldview that gives account for value and meaning and truth and trust and love and knowledge and morality. When we realise this, we will be able to challenge them in their lostness.

In Christ,