“Man-Church: Preachers”

 

Over the last few weeks a couple of people have asked me what preachers I listen to.  Therefore, because of this and because of the fact that I met with the leader of our men’s ministry yesterday to speak about resources I decided to write a short blog listing some of the preachers I listen to and whose ministries have been particularly popular among young men.  Whilst they are all very different what seems to link their styles is their passionate delivery, their understanding of contemporary culture and their unswerving belief in the authority of scripture.

  1. Eric Mason http://www.epiphanyfellowship.org/resources/sermon
  2. J D Greear http://www.summitrdu.com/messages/
  3. Dr Tony Evans http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/the-alternative/listen/
  4. Craig Groschel http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/archive/
  5. Matt Chandler http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/
  6. Tim Chaddick http://realityla.com/category/teachings/
  7. Matt Carter http://austinstone.org/resources/sermons
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The Soil is Just as Important as the Seed [Luke 8:4-21]

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Sermon Link [Why not have a listen to the sermon?]

Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement and a major contributor to the development of seek-sensitive services, said of missionaries:

“They do good work.  They pour out [their] life.  They bear witness to Christ.  They teach and heal men, distribute powdered milk, and demonstrate improved agricultural methods.  But they do all these things, and much more, while their churches grow, if at all, by baptizing their own children.”[1]

Whilst I agree with his belief that the missionary must immerse himself in the culture of the host nation, speak their language; eat their food, live amongst them, use their songs and music styles and communicate the Gospel in words and ideas that can be easily understood by the host, we see that Jesus takes the opposite tack here.  Having totally immersed Himself in first century Palestinian culture and having gathered a significant following, Jesus, by way of judgement, begins to teach only in parables so that his message may be concealed to those who are uninterested and revealed to those who are truly seeking [Matthew 13:34-35, Luke 8:9-10].

In this particular parable, one which seems to be central to our understanding of all parables [Mark 4:13], Jesus begins to tell “the parable of the soils” [the parallels can be found in Matthew 13:1-23 & Mark 4:1-20], a parable which describes four reactions to the Gospel message.[2]

 

1. By The Wayside – The Ignorant Ones

And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it… The seed is the word of God. 12 Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  Luke 8:4-5, 11b-12

Farming, in Israel in the first century, was different from farming in the West today.  All of the various fields were separated by boulders or boundary markers and people would traverse through the fields which would harden the soil and create natural walkways.  When it came to sowing, the farmer would remove the rocks and the weeds and then  scatter the seed before ploughing the ground.  This meant that he might be able to reclaim the soil that had been used as a public thoroughfare.   Sometimes when seed was sown the ground, which had been previously walked upon, was so hard that the seed was unable to penetrate it and therefore was trampled and eaten by the birds of the air.  Jesus uses this as an example of those who are the ignorant ones, those who did not understand the message and were not interested in trying to find out the meaning of the Gospel message [Matthew 13:19].

APPLICATION: Take some time to familiarise yourself with the Gospel.  What does it mean, what does it do, who is it for and how is it made effectual?  You may find it helpful to consult the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 82-93, courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored or even speak to some mature believers within your Church.

 

2. On the Rocks – The Superficial Ones

Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture …13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Luke 8:6,13

Since it was normal practice for the farmer to remove the stones and the weeds and because the parable does not focus on the sower, Jesus, we can wisely suppose that this was the seed that fell on bedrock.  Israel itself, even to this day I believe, is renowned for large limestone deposits beneath the surface soil.  This seed, then, happened to fall here, and because it couldn’t grow down it went up and looked like it was going to produce a bumper crop but because it had no root it died away.  Jesus compares this with the one who starts his journey exceedingly well but is overcome by temptation.  Having said this, I do not want the reader to think that the Christian life does not involve temptation [Romans 7:14-25] and, God-forbid, failure [1 John 1:5-8] but this is the one who is not, by the grace of God, removing himself from temptation and seeking to overcome it.

APPLICATION: While the bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another [James 5:16], as Protestants, we are often reluctant to do so.  Why not find a mature and trustworthy friend to whom you can confess your major and re-occurring struggles and who can give you good honest advice on how to overcome?  They do not need to know all the details so keep it short and to the point.

 

3. Among the Thorns – The Worldly Ones

And some fell, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it…14 Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Luke 8:7,14

 The third seed probably fell in an area that had already been weeded but because the roots of the weeds had not been fully removed and because the weeds were well established they grew up quicker than the seed and choked it out before the fruit could ripen.  Jesus likens this third group to those who have believed but are preoccupied with worldly things.  Maybe these things are not bad in themselves but the “cares, riches, and pleasures of life” would not let the fruit become productive.

APPLICATION: Chasing and/or living for fashion, family, money, marriage, fame, work, business, hobbies, education and food can all be things that choke out the Gospel seed.  Why not get a copy of Watchman Nee’s classic “Love not the World,” which is available free on e-book and have a read?[3]  Are you someone who lives for this world or one who longs for the one to come?  If you are unsure look at what directs your life, how you spend your free time and how you use your disposal income.  It is often a great indicator.

 

4. On Good Ground – The Genuine Ones

But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold. “When He had said these things He cried, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”… 15 The ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:8,15

 In Jesus’ day, a good harvest was considered around ten percent; here then we have a supernatural bumper harvest, which Jesus compares to the seed that fell on the good soil.  These are the ones who have “a noble and good heart” [Kingdom character], “keep it” [they persevere] “and bear fruit with patience” [maybe not instantly but eventually they become productive].   It is these who can only truly be considered Christian, something that Jesus brings out in the immediate context [Luke 8:16-21].  This, however, does not mean that we are saved by a transformed lifestyle but it does mean that a changed lifestyle is normative if salvation is genuine [Ephesians 2:8-10] and while there may be exceptions to the rule [1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Jude 1:20-23] unless the seed falls on good ground there can be no lasting productivity and no assurance of salvation.

APPLICATION: When Billy Graham was a young man, a great evangelist called Charles Templeton mentored him and became a close friend.  Charles Templeton was a man who was not only miraculously “converted” but was considered a greater evangelist than Billy Graham at the time.  He went on, though, to renounce the faith and died as an apostate.  While only God knows what happened with the man’s soul, I would challenge you to watch the film, “Billy Graham: The Early Years.”  After watching it, I would ask that you consider recommitting your life to Jesus and asking that he might give you the grace for a full assurance of salvation, victory over sin and temptation and that you might be productive in all the areas of your earthly life.

 

 

[1] McGavran, 1970, Understanding Church Growth: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids p.54 [brackets my own]

Read the Bible 101 [from a reflective essay]

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[free video, audio and pdf commentaries by my favourite evangelical commentator, Dr Bob Utley]

Introduction

Having both been a Christian for a number of years and having ministered in various capacities, I have come to hold the scriptures as the highest authority for the life and witness for both the believer and the church.  Nonetheless, one of the great concerns I have held over the years is the way in which scripture is to be interpreted and therefore after completing the module 406.3.4, “Using the Bible in Theological Reflection,” I began to reflect upon a hermeneutical model which presents an easy way to understand and interpret the bible.

 

1. Theologically – [it means “study of God” and is used to mean in a systematic way]

Within the Wesleyan Reform Union, the denomination in which I am a minister, one of the articles in the statement of faith reads:

“That the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, as originally given, are of divine inspiration and infallible, supreme in authority in all matters of faith and conduct.”[1]

Therefore, I would teach firstly that the initial aim of biblical interpretation would be to go back to the original meaning of the original author to his original audience.  This means that the literary and historical context and the composition for particular types of literature must be treated in a particular type of way (no-one would read a poem and an encyclopaedia in the same way would they?) and the content of a passage must be understood before it can be interpreted and/or applied.  This means that passages that have been plucked out randomly are not of “divine inspiration” because they are not “as originally given.  Fee and Stuart write:

The first task of the interpreter is…the careful, systematic study of the Scripture to discover the originally intended meaning.”[2]

Secondly, I would add that no text of itself is inspired.  No!  It is the whole of scripture that is inspired and therefore the reader must not only look at the references which bolster his particular view but those that detract from it.  The reason for this is that many biblical truths within scripture are held in dialectical tension.  So the same bible that teaches that salvation is based on grace is the same bible that teaches the importance of works.[3]  Moreover, the same bible that teaches God’s sovereignty in salvation is the same bible that teaches of man’s responsibility.[4]  If these great truths are held in biblical tension it would not only bring balance to the Christian life but it would go some way towards providing a comprehensive and holistic understanding of biblical theology.

 

2. Christologically – [it means “study of Christ” and is used to mean in reverence of and in light of the Saviour]

My next stage would be to read the bible Christologically.  Hence, I would deem the bible as merely a literary work and spiritually closed unless one has a personal saving faith in Christ.[5]  This does not mean that we must be arrogant and see that nothing can be gleaned by the non-Christian’s study of scripture nor that non-Christian commentaries may not contain some insightful truth.  What I am saying is that the scripture is of no salvific or revelatory value unless a man has yielded his life to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through a personal relationship.  Without this study is of little or no value and may even be doctrinally detrimental.[6]

Secondly I would teach that the birth, the life, the message, the death, the burial, the resurrection, the mission and return of Jesus (sometimes known as “the Christ event”) is fundamentally the essence of all Scripture.[7]  Therefore, the words of Christ and the teaching of the New Testament church fulfills the Old Testament.  This does not in any way mean that we can read full-blown New Testament doctrine into the Old Testament, unless done so by the New Testament authors themselves, but neither does it mean that the Hebrew Scriptures are of a lesser value or that they should be discarded or seen as substandard.  It means that God’s revelation should be seen as a multi-layered lens made up of the written and the incarnate word which must always be held together.[8]

 

3. Pneumatologically – [it means “study of the Spirit” and is used to mean in total reliance upon the power of the Spirit]

Finally, the Bible must be understood pneumatologically for it is a closed book unless illuminated by the Holy Spirit.  It is for this reason why preaching and reading should always be done in an attitude of prayerful humility.  The Spirit is able to quicken our minds and hearts, and enables us to understand, communicate and respond to Scripture.  By God’s grace He even allows us to be illuminated by scripture that has been taken completely out of context and has been misapplied.  There is no doubt that God does this not because of our faulty interpretive skills but in spite of them.  Nonetheless here I would advise caution and say to those who are moving from revelation (objectively revealed in the text) to speculation (subjective feelings about the text) that they must be completely honest with themselves and their listeners or they move into the realms of false teaching and heresy.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.

Let me give an example.  I was at a church and they shared the text Luke 6:38:

38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Then the congregation were exhorted to give and as they gave they were encouraged to allow the Holy Spirit to show them individually if this text meant healing or financial breakthrough for them.  Whilst I believe in the Holy Spirit and believe that His power is needed to illuminate the Scripture, I also knew that this was not a promise about healing or monetary breakthrough.  In fact the passage was in a context on forgiveness (see picture above) and was preceded by a passage on loving your enemies (Luke 6:27-36) and proceeded by two passages on false discipleship (Luke 6:43-45 and 6:46-49).  Now whilst God may have “spoken” to those and brought healing and monetary breakthrough, the preacher himself mishandled Scripture and used an imperative to lean upon the Spirit as an excuse to mask his scriptural laziness or his blatant deceit.

 

Conclusion

It is because of him and men like him that I hope to spend more time on this model so that in my preaching and teaching that believers are able to interpret and apply the bible well.  That they may be able to say, in the words of St Augustine:

“Let us therefore yield ourselves and bow to the authority of Holy Scripture, which can neither err nor deceive.”[9]

Bibliography

Fee G D & Stuart D, 2005 How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth: Zondervan, Grand Rapids

Hodgkin A M, 1969, Christ in All Scriptures: A Pickering Classic, Basingstoke

Wilson M R, 2005 Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith: Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids

 

References

[2] Fee and Stuart, 2005, p. 23

[3] Ephesians 2:8-10

[4] Compare John 3:16 and John 6:37-40

[5] John 10:25-27

[6] 2 Timothy 4:3-4

[7] Wilson, 2005, p.29

[8] Matthew 22:45, Luke 24:25-27, 24:44-48 , John 1:1, 8:56

[9] Water, 2000, p. 117 quoting St Augustine

Lessons from my First Three Years of Ministry (Part 1)

bibleThis week marks my third year anniversary of full time pastoral ministry. On the Sunday the 5th of September 2010  I was inducted as the youth and children’s worker (later to become youth and children’s minister) for a group of three churches in Staffordshire. So far this week I have been reflecting on some of the highs and lows of my early days of ministry and I have realized that i have a lot to be thankful for. As you can imagine I have learned quite a few lessons in these three short years. Over the next week i want to share some of these lessons that i have learned with you.

Lesson 1: Jesus is Faithful

For years I felt a draw to pastoral ministry, but one thing held me back… fear of man.

I’m dyslexic and as a result for years I hated reading, especially reading aloud! Public speaking terrified me! I was afraid of ‘getting up there’ and making a fool of my self. The first sermon I preached was in Romania when I was 17, it was a train crash! I got up there and told the people everything I knew about God. After that i thought, ‘Never again!’ This held me back from taking part in many opportunities that were presented to me. Over time I began to realize the reason that was holding me back was pride… During this time some verses from Exodus were continually in my head:

“But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.'”

The battle that was going on in my own heart was to do with the faithfulness of God. I was terrified of getting into the pulpit and it being a disaster. However I was forgetting that I serve a faithful God who made my mouth, a God that is mighty and is not silent. All this was going on in my heart even when i was at bible collage, top notch bible student I was!

I remember a point where i realized that it was pride that was holding me back, i repented and prayed a prayer basically saying ‘I’ll preach, as long as you come with me.’

Not too long after that God called me to the post where I am now at.  What did i have to do on the first week of the job? Preach at the midweek service!  God was faithful! His Word never returns void.

In a way having dyslexia and some of these fears is a good thing. It keeps me dependent on God.

Lesson 2: God’s Word is Sufficient.

As I look around at the world of youth work I have the strange desire to bang my head on the table. So much of the youth ‘ministry’ that goes on is nothing more than entertainment and gimmicks. I’m not saying youth ministry shouldn’t be fun, it should be.

However if we long to see lives transformed by the good news of Jesus, gimmicks are a waste of time. What they need is the word of God! When God’s word is taught, lives are changed.

Over the years it has been amazing to see many of the young people grow in their faith and to bear fruit that is lasting. It has also been a real blessing to lead some young people to Christ during this time.

Cool Jesus Culture music, flashing lights, lots of trips, bribing young people into church with iTunes vouchers are all gimmicks that save no one.

Faith comes by hearing, God’s word is sufficient.

“So what will you do to the Bible?”

A friend of mine once asked “what do you plan to do to the Bible to make it attractive to young people these days” I said “teach it” and he laughed!

When I read the following as part of David Robertson’s latest article it reminded me of that whole conversation…

“Once I was sitting in our church hall waiting for a children’s party to finish. An older man sat beside me and promptly informed me that he was an ‘elder in the Kirk’, in a village not too far from Dundee. “Our minister disna believe in teaching all that bible stuff” he proudly proclaimed, “it disna attract the young people”. Given that he was blissfully unaware of who I was, I could not resist the temptation! “Really? Perhaps you could help me with a problem? How many young people go to your church”. “Eh…none”. “Well that’s my problem. You see this church does believe in teaching the bible. They have a 30-40 minute sermon twice every Sunday. And they have 100 plus young people. But your minister doesn’t teach the bible because it does not attract the young people and yet it attracts none”.”

Paul writes in 1 Cor 1 v 17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Have a read, it’s true, and it has been such a blessing to live and breathe it for the last 4 years since leaving teaching – no regrets. Something to think about…”your minister doesn’t teach the bible because it does not attract the young people and yet it attracts none”