Friday, July 30, 2010

Why wouldn't a Christian witness?

Christians are often lampooned for their evangelism. Here's a different view from Penn Jillette, who is himself a committed and dogmatic atheist - but does at least get the point.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just a link

Bit of a busy time at the moment, trying to prepare a series on 'Proverbs' that should have begun last week. So, with no time for the usual incisive comments until at least tomorrow, I'll just paste a link to Guy Davies' blog, where he kindly interviews me. And about time, too.

Thirty-Two Years...

It's thirty-two years today since I finally had the good sense to marry Elaine.

One old saint once said to me 'Gary, you have one outstanding gift.' 'Oh yes?' I asked, modestly. 'Yes,' she said. 'It's your wife.' She was right.

Everything I value on earth, I owe to Elaine. Thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Beam me up, Deacon

A phenomena that hasn't yet made much inroad in the UK is that of using technology to 'broadcast' the sermon from a popular preacher into other congregations miles - many miles, maybe - away. One church in the US is apparently considering a 'satellite' congregation in, er, Scotland. I do hope they know about time differences.

The idea is a congregation meets together under its own 'service leader'. They have their own music, readings, notices etc - and then, at a predetermined time, the video screen goes on and they all listen to the sermon. Usually a well-known preacher is preaching it, at that moment, to 'his own' congregation. It's no different, a mega-church may argue, from what's been done for years, with folks in 'overflow rooms' watching the sermon on screen. It's just that now the 'overflow room' is further away!

Not everybody's happy:
Dan Phillips for example asks
  • Think about this. Christianity Today reports that, in 2002, 2000 clergy were looking for jobs. In 2009, 5000 clergy were looking for jobs. Yet let one personality become popular, and what do churches do? Beam that one personality to multiple locations. Hm... are the two phenomena related?

My guess is there may be some correlation, but probably not a lot.

Actually, the phenomena isn't that new, only the technology. What was once technologically impossible became possible but expensive, then easy and cheap. But there have always been preachers whose ministries have attracted crowds. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Daniel Rowland - many, many others. And there have always been folks who thought that they should get rid of the crowds! 'Send them away! There are struggling churches nearby - let them go there. Or let them plant a church; it's wrong to have that big a crowd.' When I was a pastor with Grace Baptist Churches, I heard it suggested that any church bigger than 50 was sinful. (Naturally, it was suggested without any Biblical warrant - there isn't any - and by a man whose church had never got anywhere near 50!)

Should such men do anything about it? Well, many do - Spurgeon for example planted many churches, often sending them a preacher he had trained himself. Yet the Tab continued to be full.

Here's a man who is being blessed under a particular ministry, and is actively involved - as a result - in the work of that church. Should we insist he go somewhere where he finds the ministry to be less of a blessing? On what ground?

'For the sake of the Kingdom!' someone cries. 'That's the ground.' OK - but how do you know that the Kingdom will prosper if that man's blessing decreases? Why are you so sure that the Kingdom will not prosper more if one church grows large and is able to do many things that small churches - even working together - cannot easily do? I grant that 'the Kingdom' is all-important. But why are we so sure that a lot of weak churches are better for the Kingdom than a few big ones?

My own church is middle-sized, rather than large: 250 or so on a good morning (it used to be higher, but we've planted a second congregation.) And I've had a man say to me 'It's time you sent some of your people to help a struggling cause.' But the one time we tried to do that, the 'struggling cause' didn't want it. I offered to try and lead my church to a) send them a preacher that I knew they already liked, b) help support him financially, c) encourage a team of people to come with him and help in the work. But the small church's leadership weren't interested.

Actually, I can conceive of why that might be. An influx of Moordowners would have been enough to give them the majority vote in church meetings. They could have changed anything they wanted, to make it more like Moordown. (Or less, depending on who went, of course.) And if you're tempted to say 'Gracious and spiritual people wouldn't do that,' - well, it depends. If they honestly thought that 'the way we do things' brings more glory to God than 'the way they do things', then of course they would. And anyway, if a struggling church is going to stop being a struggling church, something has to change - probably quite a lot of 'somethings'.

What's this got to do with 'beaming preachers'? Quite a bit, I think.

Suppose Pastor Jones has a remarkable ministry and people are already crowding into his church, while others are listening over the internet regularly. And two hundred miles away a group of people, who all listen to Pastor Jones, live in the town of Drysville. They've discovered that when they give recordings of Pastor Jones to their neighbours, their neighbours listen and get converted. So they all begin to meet together on Sunday morning. One option is to call a pastor to serve them. But someone suggests 'beaming in' Pastor Jones, at least for a little while. What should be the great principle that guides them?

Surely it's this: would a resident pastor be more effective, or less, in building up the saints and reaching the lost? They may decide 'less', and arrange to beam in Jones.

Mind you - I would hope it would only be a temporary expedient: for there's more to being a pastor than preaching.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Music - Janine Jansen #1

Now look, don't go away even if you think you don't like the violin. No, I said DON'T GO. This young lady is new to me. She's Dutch and she is a superb player. This little piece, 'Meditation from Thais' by Jules Massenet is one I'm trying to learn at the moment. And I sound as much like her as I look like her.

Listen, play it. It's beautiful. Unlike some, she doesn't milk the emotion too much - just enough. Next Monday will be more of Janine - give both pieces a try, why don't you?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wounded in the house of my friends? #2

See yesterday’s blog for an introduction to this. Now, now – don’t be lazy. You only have to scroll down a little bit.

3. Sermon or lecture Once, argues Murray, ‘lecture’ in preaching circles meant what is now meant by expository preaching. Lloyd-Jones called his work on Romans ‘lectures’, but ‘conceived the contents of his Ephesians series as ‘sermons’ and anyone comparing… can quickly see the difference.

Well, yes – OK. There are different types of sermons, different purposes in mind, differing congregations, even. Yet (as Murray readily acknowledges) Lloyd-Jones’ ‘Ephesians’ series proceeded consecutively through the whole book. Nothing is proved – or even indicated – by this point, I think.

4. What helps the hearer most is best ‘At the end of the day, the best preaching is that which helps the hearers most, and in that connection the track record of the consecutive ‘expository’ method is not impressive.’ The danger is, Murray says, that the preacher becomes only a commentator; and ‘a sermon needs a text as the basis for a memorable message,’ especially if the preacher is not to introduce a whole series of ideas into the sermon and lose clear, over-all lessons.

The weakness here though is that Murray is criticising badly-done expository preaching and using it as a reason to call the very form into question – except in the hands of a favoured very few. In simple logic, that isn’t adequate: the remedy for poor preaching of any type is to improve it.

And the passage reads as if there are no dangers associated with ‘the other’ type (or types). Of course, Murray knows that there are. For example – a text may become a pretext: it may be ‘expounded’ in such a way that has no reference to the context at all. Spurgeon himself was not immune from this danger! (Nor was Lloyd-Jones: his sermon on ‘Revival’ in the midst of his Ephesians series is inspiring, but not warranted by the context.)

Too many tyros have tried to preach verse-by-verse through major books of Scripture with near-disastrous results. It is arguable that this is one of the reasons why ‘reformed’ preaching has, in more than one place, been criticised as ‘heavy’ or plain ‘dull’.

Well, indeed; I remember suffering a series of verse-by-verse expositions of Jeremiah! But the preacher saw eventually that it wasn’t a good idea. It may be, however, that reformed preaching is criticised as ‘dull’ because too many reformed preachers are ‘dull’ – or, indeed, are not really preachers at all. Is there any evidence that they would be less dull if they abandoned the consecutive method?

5. The best ‘fit’ for evangelistic preaching ‘Evangelistic preaching does not best fit the ‘expository’ mode; in fact, where the ‘expository’ is exclusively used, true evangelistic preaching to heart and conscience commonly disappears.’

There’s some truth in the ‘fit’ argument – though I suspect that where evangelistic preaching has disappeared other factors weigh heavier. (‘But there’s never an unsaved person there’). In fact, many preachers haven’t a clue how to preach evangelistically. They’ve no idea what interests the unbeliever, or how to excite a proper interest in the unbeliever, or how to get hold of an unbeliever’s attention before the sermon ‘proper’ begins. (I remember overhearing a surgeon say to a patient, ‘You need an operation or you’ll die; but I can’t operate on you while you’re behaving in this way, otherwise you’ll die on the table and that will damage my reputation.’ Brutal – but the patient listened to every word that followed!)

However, there’s another side to the ‘fit’ argument. Some parts of the Bible are written with an evangelistic purpose. John’s gospel is the supreme example: ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name,’ (20:31). Frankly, if a man is preaching from any part of John’s gospel and cannot see the evangelistic application, he either does not understand the passage or does not understand the gospel. Or take the Acts of the Apostles: Lloyd-Jones' last evangelistic series of the Westminster years was on that great book. He treated it very differently from 'Romans' or 'Ephesians' - but it was consecutive and expository, passionate and clear. Choose the passage/book right, and consecutive exposition is a superb way of preaching evangelistically.

So, is Iain Murray right to sound a caution? Yes, I think he is. We’re not to be slaves to method. We have to be prepared to find out what ‘works best’ for us – and best helps our hearers. We have to consider the possibility that we ourselves might be ‘dull’ and ‘heavy’. And certainly we have to make sure that every sermon we preach can stand alone: as Iain D Campbell says on the blog referenced yesterday, ‘At last, I know that I am committed to two things: to a stand-alone sermon, and to a Christ-exalting sermon. The first is necessary because it is just possible that someone may wander into church, not having heard the gospel before, and hearing it now for the first and last time. In that case, it will not do simply to refer to last week's sermon, or anticipate next week's. Each sermon must be a study in itself, a complete unit, which can be transported out of the church and into the life of the hearer.’

But I think Murray overstates it. The thing the church needs most is good expository preaching. It doesn’t have to take as long as Lloyd-Jones typically did – see here, for example, to discover how another preacher did it.

Above all, let us labour to be both accurate and passionate, whether we preach consecutively or not. Years ago I taught a preaching class and asked ‘Which is most important in a sermon – to be sound, or to be interesting?’ Everyone of them thought ‘sound’ was more important. I disagree – to be sound but boring borders on criminal. Both are equally important.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Wounded in the house of my friends?

- expository preaching under critical spotlights

Expository preaching has received some criticism recently from surprising places. First, Iain Murray published an article in the February (2010) issue of Banner of Truth, online here.

Then, Iain D Campbell wrote ‘Some thoughts on pulpit methodology’ on the Reformation 21 blog and finally Peter Masters at the Tabernacle Summer School lectured on the advantages and disadvantages of the method (see here and scroll down to July 10th).

Murray helpfully begins with a definition: ‘If this [expository preaching] means that the preacher’s one business is to confine himself to the text of Scripture, and to make the sense plain to others, there is nothing more to discuss… But ‘expository preaching’ has often come to mean something more. The phrase is popularly used to describe preaching which consecutively takes a congregation through a passage, or book of Scripture, week by week.’’

Murray’s right so far. Properly, the phrase refers to preaching which takes a text of Scripture and opens up (exposes, hence expository) its meaning to the congregation, together with its application to their lives. But, yes, in the minds of many it means a long series on a relatively short passage.

Murray has five criticisms to make.

1. ‘Know your gifts’. ‘It assumes that all preachers are capable of making effective sermons along these lines… Spurgeon was not unfamiliar with ‘expository preaching’… and he decided it was not best suited to his gifts. There is reason to think that being an effective ‘expository’ preacher is not such a common gift as some seem to think.’

Indeed there is! In fact, there is good reason to think that preaching is not such a common gift as some seem to think (but that’s a subject for another blog). But to suggest (as Murray does – see the whole article) that too many try to follow Lloyd-Jones who don’t have his gift – while holding up Spurgeon as an alternative model – seems to miss one rather important point: we don’t have Spurgeon’s gift, either.

2. ‘What is preaching?’ Murray argues that expository preaching is seen as supreme because of the idea ‘that the foremost purpose of preaching is to convey as much as possible of the Bible. But that idea needs to be challenged…’

Here I beg to differ. I don’t think so. On the contrary, it needs to be re-affirmed. Yes, a sermon has to be more than a lecture – it has to have as its purpose to ‘strike, awaken, and arouse men and women so that they themselves become bright Christians’ but when Murray continues ‘and daily students of Scripture’ I have to disagree. I've got into bother for this before so let me say straight away: of course, it’s a good thing to be a daily student of Scripture. But you won’t find in the New Testament that idea at all – as Stuart Olyott pointed out (to my initial surprise and consternation) in the Banner of Truth Magazine some years ago. Actually, it is the preacher’s job to acquaint his congregation with the whole Bible – though not usually in one sermon. Many people - even today - are illiterate. It's a noble thing for the educated to search the Scriptures daily and check up on the preacher (Acts 17.11). But that's not the same as saying preaching is there to produce Bible readers.

3. Sermon or lecture? I’ll come back to this…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

John Piper sounds a caution...

My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God. Loving doing theology rather than loving God.

Sam Crabtree said to me once, "The danger of the contemporary worship awakening is that we love loving God more than we love God." That was very profound. And you might love thinking about God more than you love God. Or arguing for God more than you love God. Or defending God more than you love God. Or writing about God more than you love God. Or preaching more than you love God. Or evangelizing more than you love God.

(HT Adrian Warnock)*

Nothing else now until Friday. Bye!

* HT seems to mean 'I pinched this from him'

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Peter Masters: evangelistic preaching

I don't want to go on and on about this. And I'm not doing this just because my Saturday blog about PM got more comments than I'd had for weeks. Well, not just because of that. But go here, and scroll down until you find the sermon 'Living by human sight or spiritual light' - from June 13th this year. Listen to it, or watch it.

Note how he takes one simple spiritual truth - that we need faith not sight - and spends thirty minutes on it. Note how he illustrates it. Note his (very occasional) humour. Note the warmth of his delivery. Note the gentleness with which he speaks directly to the unconverted.

There's a lot of truth in here - and Calvary especially, of course. But he doesn't try to cover everything; he doesn't labour anything, and there really is just one point to the whole sermon.

It's one I picked at random. It would be amazing therefore if it were his best, or his worst. But it is very, very good.

I think I'm going to listen to some more. Why don't you?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Joshua Bell - Music Monday

Something different today. A couple of years ago, the Washington Post tried an experiment in Washington subway. It took Joshua Bell - one of the world's greatest violinists - and set him 'busking' in rush hour. Here's a free concert by a great virtuoso. Did anyone notice? Watch and see.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Seven Good Things about Peter Masters

PM has been criticised quite a bit in the blogosphere recently, some of it fair, some of it not so fair. No-one is perfect, no-one is beyond criticism. But we're not to be unbalanced, and certainly not to be untruthful. Therefore, here are seven things about Peter Masters that, in my own opinion, are causes for thanksgiving.

1. Personal graciousness. I know very well that he does not always 'come across' as gracious in his polemic messages and articles. But the fact is, I met Dr Masters only once, more than thirty years ago at one of the very first Tabernacle Summer Schools. I found him warm and welcoming, shy and self-deprecating - in a word, gracious. My friend Jonathan Hunt tells me that he is still the same, and I've no reason to doubt that. Thank God for his personal graciousness.

2. Passion for souls. When he went to the Tabernacle in the 70s, it was in a very poor state numerically. He set about changing that not with a ministry that drew believers from other churches but with robust evangelism. His work with Sunday Schools, his production of evangelistic materials in new and attractive formats, his determination that his congregation should be a working, soul-winning congregation, his regular evangelistic preaching - all of this is witness to a passion to see the Lord Jesus Christ glorified by the salvation of sinners.

3. Evangelistic preaching. Evangelistic preaching - a regular, weekly gospel sermon - is very much out of vogue today. Various arguments are produced against it; but the biggest reason, I'm convinced, why men do not do it is that they do not know how to do it.
Peter Masters has both argued for evangelistic preaching and modelled it for forty years or so. His book 'Physicians of Souls' (and there's another edition, called 'Physician of Souls'- note the difference) is, quite simply, brilliant. Every pastor/preacher should read it and attempt to imitate it. Masters' evangelistic preaching has produced an audience for it (I mean, unconverted people come); and it has produced fruit, with hundreds converted during those forty years.

4. Consistent ministry. Have you noticed how, every few years, new ways of growing congregations are produced? Some of them are better (more effective, or more Biblical, or both) than others; but one thing is sure: chopping and changing every few years will never work. Peter Masters knew what he wanted to do, and has done it consistently, and fruitfully. We've reason to be grateful to God for that; he has shown that the gospel without frills is still powerful under God.

5. Robust Calvinism. Like Spurgeon, I'm a Calvinist because it's a nickname for Biblical truth, not because of any particular fondness for the Reformer. So, I think, is Peter Masters. His Calvinism, like Spurgeon's, provokes and sweetens and empowers his evangelism, rather than restricting it. He has shown (again) that Calvinism really can build an inner-city congregation even in the 20th/21st Centuries; that it can be preached evangelistically, and that it does build up the souls of the saints. Thank God for that, too.

6. Willingness to innovate. I think the Tabernacle was the first Reformed ministry to make use of posters on the Tube. Superbly illustrated in cartoon-style by Lawrence Littleton Evans, they were brilliantly contemporary, gently provocative and successful in getting people to hear the gospel at 'The Tab'. Some years ago when we asked permission to do our own leaflet based on a 'Tab' poster called 'Why not hear the gospel?', the permission was readily and warmly given. Then again, Masters' own magazine-style evangelistic booklets were innovative and clear. Everybody's doing them now; but they weren't then.

7. Stand against charismatic issues. Masters has consistently warned against the dangers of charismatic doctrine with its supposed gifts and revelations, and has been one of the very few prominent evangelicals to do so. Most non-charismatics seem content to stay aloof and stay silent, and even to criticise cessationists. Masters has argued theologically and Biblically for the temporary nature of the sign gifts and has done so convincingly. Indeed, I abandoned my own charismatic views at the Tab Summer School I mentioned earlier under the compelling arguments presented (on that occasion) by Stuart Olyott. To this day I know of no other significant Reformed conference that has taken this line. Our charismatic friends lose no opportunity to promote their views (and rightly so, since they believe it to be the truth of God); but on this side of the debate, we try to stay neutral. Masters has not stayed neutral, and for that I am grateful to God.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lloyd-Jones on Authority in Preaching

There was an old preacher in Wales about one hundred and fifty years ago who was invited to preach at a preaching convention held in a little town. The people had already assembled, but the preacher had not come. so the local minister and other leaders sent a maid back to the house where the preacher was staying to tell him that they were waiting for him and that everything was ready. The girl went and when she came back she said: 'I did not like to disturb him. He is talking to somebody.'

'Oh,' said they, 'that is rather strange, because everybody is here. Go back and tell him that it is after time and that he must come.'

So the girl went back again and again she returned and reported, 'He is talking to somebody.'

'How do you know that?' they asked. She answered: 'I heard him saying to this other person who is with him, "I will not go and preach to those people if you will not come with me."'

'Oh, it is all right,' replied the ministers. 'We had better wait.'

The old preacher knew that there was little purpose in his going to preach unless he knew of a certainty that the Holy Ghost was going with him and giving him authority and power. He was wise enough, and had sufficient spiritual discernment, to refuse to preach until he knew that he had his authroity, and that the Holy Ghost was going with him and would speak through him. You and I, however, often preach without him, and all our cleverness and learning, and all our science and all our apologetics lead to nothing because we lack the authority of the Holy Ghost.

(From'Authority' by DM Lloyd-Jones, IVF, London 1958 page 88)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lloyd-Jones: The Authority of Preaching

From the beginning of his ministry to the very end, Lloyd-Jones was an evangelist. His wife claimed that no-one understood him who did not realise that he was primarily an evangelist. It was his practice, every Sunday evening, to preach 'the gospel' - that is, to use his gifts to apply the passage he was dealing with to unconverted hearers.

His series on the Acts of the Apostles (begun 10th January 1965) was his last evangelistic series as pastor at Westminster Chapel, being brought to an end in 1968 (February 25th) by his illness and subsequent retirement, when he had reached Acts 8 and the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

In one of these last sermons, Iain Murray says ('The Fight of Faith' page 581), his main theme ‘was that Philip could speak with authority because Scripture is a revelation from God, containing good news from heaven.’ Murray then quotes Lloyd-Jones,

‘I have no other authority as I stand in this pulpit. The authority of the cults is the authority of experience… That is not the case here. This is exposition of the truth and we have no other authority. My dear friends, let me put it as plainly and as simply as this: standing in this pulpit tonight on the 28th of January 1968 I am doing nothing different from what Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.’

The three sermons following this, in February of that year, Lloyd-Jones preached from Isaiah 53, which Philip explained to the Ethiopian in Acts 8. This brought his evangelistic ministry at Westminster Chapel to a close.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stuart Olyott: The ministry of the word is an and
(part 3)

(No music today! Time to finish this article.)

As I mentioned here, I was recently at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (EMA) in London. It was outstanding, with highlights including John Piper ruminating on Galatians 3:2 ('hearing with faith') and Vaughan Roberts on George Whitefield. (There's something strangely moving about hearing a preacher say 'Whitefield preached his first sermon in London in this church, entering by that door and making his way through the crowds...')

Incredibly, an mp3 of the whole conference will shortly be available for only £4.99, and downloads will also be available soon. Every preacher ought to hear at least the Vaughan Roberts session!

But this is not about that. By kind permission of Adrian Reynolds at Proc Trust, I can post the whole of Stuart Olyott's article in their resource guide, called - well, title's above. Extracts number one and two have already been published; here's the third and final one:


In seeking to put all this into practice, I have found the following suggestions to be helpful.

The first is to live by the motto, ‘Prayer first, study and activity second.’ My normal routine is to get up and have breakfast, engage in family and personal devotions, shave and shower, and then to give myself to a session of sustained prayer before doing anything else at all.

The second is to pray outside. This keeps me from giving in to the temptation to start other work before having a time of special communion with God. During thirty-five years of pastoral ministry in the inner city, this meant walking the streets and parks, and praying out loud – but not too loudly. At certain times a large umbrella and waterproof trousers proved useful!

The third is to have a prayer schedule. I have a small and robust notebook divided into five sections. In each section is a list of church members, regular attendees, family members, friends, ministers and missionaries, church activities and Christian ministries. I seek to pray through one section each day. So why are there only five sections? This is because I do not follow this system on Sundays, and also have a ‘free day’ to catch up on any day’s intercession that has been interrupted or hindered.

The fourth is to use aids which will stimulate prayer. Almost every day I recite a portion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism and use it as a foundation for prayer. I also make frequent use of the writings of E.M. Bounds, especially his ‘Power through Prayer’, using each sentence as a ‘prompt’.

The fifth is to prepare sermons in this spirit of prayer. On my walks I often take a photocopy of the Scripture passage on which I will be preaching. I run it round in my head, talk to the Lord about it until the message is clear, and then make notes. Such prayerful interaction with the text adds a marvellous freshness to the exegetical and other preparatory work which will then follow in the study.

‘Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then, my dear brother; pray, pray, pray.’ (Edward Payson)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stuart Olyott: The ministry of the word is an and

As I mentioned here, I was recently at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (EMA) in London. It was outstanding, with highlights including John Piper ruminating on Galatians 3:2 ('hearing with faith') and Vaughan Roberts on George Whitefield. (There's something strangely moving about hearing a preacher say 'Whitefield preached his first sermon in London in this church, entering by that door and making his way through the crowds...')

Incredibly, an mp3 of the whole conference will shortly be available for only £4.99, and downloads will also be available soon. Every preacher ought to hear at least the Vaughan Roberts session!

But this is not about that. By kind permission of Adrian Reynolds at Proc Trust, I can post the whole of Stuart Olyott's article in their resource guide, called - well, title's above. Extract number one was yesterday; here's number two:

The secret

How is it that the apostles were able to keep to their priorities and so many of us are not? It is not difficult to give an answer. We only have to think about what they had experienced in the previous three or four years. They had seen the Lord, spent time with him, listened to his teaching and witnessed his miracles. Some of them had been present at both his transfiguration on the mountain and his bloodied agony in the garden. But none of these things, nor the cross, the blood, the resurrection, the appearances or the ascension had made preachers out of them. For this they had to wait for the day of Pentecost. Every apostle knew that no-one could be a true preacher without being ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).

In recent days they had learned the lesson afresh. We do not read that any of them had prayed for Pentecost to be repeated. They knew well enough that this could not be. They had lived through a unique event. But they also knew that if they were left to themselves, they would be for ever powerless. It was essential that they should have the direct and immediate blessing of God. For this they could only pray, which is precisely what they did after it became clear that the Jewish authorities would not tolerate any further preaching: ‘And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).

Since then, the persecution had been stepped up. No wonder they kept prayer as their first priority! Mere words would not conquer their enemies and win the world. They needed a force by which they could declare God’s truth with ever-loving hearts, fiery tongues and superhuman authority. This power from the Holy Spirit was the one thing to be sought and secured. They could not work this up; but they could call it down, and this is what they set themselves to do A little prayer would not do. No average wave would ever sweep away the resistant Rock of Gibraltar, the unregenerate heart, even though it might throw up spangles of spray filled with rainbows. A resistless tsunami was required. God alone can do God’s work, and we must ask him to do it.


In seeking to put all this into practice, I have found the following suggestions to be helpful... (continued Monday)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Stuart Olyott: The ministry of the word is an and

As I mentioned here, I was recently at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (EMA) in London. It was outstanding, with highlights including John Piper ruminating on Galatians 3:2 ('hearing with faith') and Vaughan Roberts on George Whitefield. (There's something strangely moving about hearing a preacher say 'Whitefield preached his first sermon in London in this church, entering by that door and making his way through the crowds...')

Incredibly, an mp3 of the whole conference will shortly be available for only £4.99, and downloads will also be available soon. Every preacher ought to hear at least the Vaughan Roberts session!

But this is not about that. By kind permission of Adrian Reynolds at Proc Trust, I can post, over the next few days, the whole of Stuart Olyott's article in their resource guide, called - well, title's above. Here's extract number one:

The first preachers of the early church were the apostles and they had a problem: something that was good was threatening to displace what was best. This is recorded for us in Acts 6:1-7.

The problem

The Jerusalem church was growing at an extraordinary speed. Conversions were taking place every day, both among the local Jews as well as among the Greek-speaking Jews visiting the city from abroad. Many of the new believers were widows who had no means of material support, and their new brothers and sisters had taken on the responsibility of providing them with a daily meal. The problem was that many of them, especially among the Greek-speakers, were going hungry. The distribution system was not working. Genuinely needy people were suffering. There was growing discontent in the church, especially among the Greek-speakers. If it continued, the church would soon split.

Why was the system not working? It was because of the apostles. There are only so many hours in a day and they were perfectly clear about how to us them to the best advantage. They had drawn up a list of priorities from which they were not going to budge, even if this meant that increasing numbers of widows went hungry. There were three items on their list, which went like this:

1. Prayer

2. Ministry of the Word

3. Everything else

There had never been so many believers as there were now. How they needed praying for! How they needed feeding from God’s word! In the apostles’ judgement, spiritual nourishment was infinitely more important than physical nourishment. Nonetheless, it was not right that widows should do hungry, just as it was not right that preachers should get distracted from their first and second priorities. But how, how, was it going to be possible to have both satisfied widows and praying preachers?

The solution

“The twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” (Acts 6:2-4, ESV)

The preachers kept their priorities, the widows got their meals, new men became actively engaged in vital ministry, church peace was restored, the Word of God spread wonderfully and the flood of conversions continued to astonish the watching world!

The apostles were as dependent upon prayer as any other preachers. They understood that it is better to default on every other responsibility than it is to neglect prayer. It even takes precedence over the ministry of the Word. Compared with prayer, preaching is only an ‘and’. It must never take first place. Prayer recognises God as God, and depends on him to do what he would not do without prayer. Prayer, and prayer alone, is the way by which the Lord’s armies call him onto the field.

True prayer stirs itself up to lay hold on God (Isaiah 64:7). This takes time, energy, faith and perseverance. It is easy to allow other things to slip in and get in the way. It is not only sinful or questionable things that provide such hindrances, but also things that are right and necessary which have been given a wrong priority. The servant of God gets sidetracked. The door to the secret place is not shut (Matt 6:6). The preacher gets caught up in his exegesis and preparation, his administration, his commitments, the needs around him, or in the actual act of preaching. He no longer knows what it is to wrestle with God and to prevail (Gen 32:28).

More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Elvis - Crying in the Tabernacle

I've got some great posts scheduled for the next three days, kind permission of Adrian Reynolds at the Proclamation Trust.

But meanwhile, it seems Martin Downes and I got a mention this year at the Met Tab Summer School. Well well. I preach my heart out for 30 years and all it takes to achieve fame is to discuss Elvis on a blog.

Thirty-eight years ago, going through a teenage-unhappy patch, I heard Elvis sing 'Crying in the Chapel' - 'Take your troubles to the chapel, get down on your knees and pray, and your burdens will be lighter, and you'll surely find the way.' I did; I heard the gospel and got saved. 'Taint his best song - but it's kinda important to me...

He does a version of 'Amazing Grace' too - but maybe another day.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Inimitable Amazing Grace

Judy Collins' version of 'Amazing Grace' was a hit round about 1972 here in the UK. I remember loving it; but - unconverted and ignorant - I did suspect it was a bit religious!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Me too, Linus - but rarely!

I don't blog on a Sunday - just don't have time. But I couldn't resist this one.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

A taxing day

Today I’ve got to do my Income Tax. I’m not sure why – it’s been explained to me, but I didn’t understand. It’s something to do with a deadline for benefits in kind.

Now, I don’t mind income tax; Dad always used to say he wished he had to pay millions. Tax is not a good thing, but it pays for good things. So I don’t mind. Much.

I just hate submitting the claim. I have an accountant friend who fills in the form for me, but he needs loads of information before he can do that. 'How much did you get here? How much did you pay there?' Well… I don’t know. I kept records, somewhere.

Literally, I shake with fear when Income Tax Day comes around. I try to give thanks that I have income to pay tax on. I try to remind myself that this, too, is one of the ‘all things’ that work together for the good of those that love Christ. But I still tremble.

And keep putting it off. An extra long quiet-time today. Done – OK, now what? I know, I really ought to post a blog entry…

Oh, look - blogger won't let me in. It'll take a while to sort this. Oh, dear - just when I wanted to get on with my income tax.