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Thursday, 30 May 2019

What is the Gospel?

A vital question
In parts of the western evangelical church, this question's importance is receding. Influenced by the Wrights and Chalkes of this world, we hear people now explaining the task of the church, not as  proclaiming the Gospel, but as proclaiming the Kingdom. We're to tell folk that the Kingdom of God has come and that everyone is invited to join in. No talk of sin, of repentance, of faith or of obedience.

In this confusion, it is helpful to remind ourselves what the Gospel is and to make sure that it is at the heart of our proclamation and labours.

There is a God
The Gospel starts further back than the Cross. It starts with the fact that everyone in the world knows that there is a God from the witness of creation. God has placed a forensic software programme in the human mind which runs from evidence (creation) to conclusion (there must be a God). We don't need to prove the existence of God, just declare it and show it.

Everyone has sinned
Then we need to convince folk from the law in their consciences and the ten commandments and the law of Christ that we have all sinned against this great and holy God who made us. We have all broken God's commandments in thought, attitude, word and deed. This is the bad news that must precede the Good News - we deserve the righteous punishment of God.

It is only when a doctor tells the  patient that he or she has cancer that they are able to see their need for the cure. If a doctor just gave "Good News" to a patient, i.e. news of a cure, they would not be interested. A cure? Why do I need a cure?

God is merciful
Convicted of their sin, we now are able to describe God's loving and amazing remedy for sin and its eternal consequences. God so loved the world that he sent his Son into the world to pay for our sins by suffering death on a Roman cross. In this way his need for holy justice is satisfied and his love is expressed to those who do not deserve salvation. Salvation is available as a free gift to all who trust in Christ, and all who believe will be given eternal life. 

Repentance and Faith
This message demands a response of repentance - a change of mind and a change of life. It demands  faith, believing the Good News and personally entrusting ourselves to Jesus Christ. Simply declaring the Good News is not enough, we must urge men and women to respond: to repent and to believe.

Obedience and following Christ
Is this part of the Gospel? I would say so. Unless we make disciples - which involves teaching believers to obey everything Christ has commanded - we have not completed the task of sharing the Gospel. So discipleship is part and parcel of our gospel declaration.

This Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. What a wonderful thing!  If we stick to it, if we are faithful in proclaiming it, if we reject modern alternatives, such as the "gospel of the kingdom", God will be pleased to honour our labours and bring men, women, boys and girls to himself.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

How to Preach

All preachers are different
Every preacher appointed by God preaches differently from every other preacher. Just as the letters of the New Testament bear the stamp of their human authors, so preaching will - and must - bear the stamp of each human preacher. No clones in the pulpit please!

But, after spelling out the differences, there are many things that all preaching should have in common, and here are six.

(1) A prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit
This is revealed in the preparation, "What do you want me to say?" and the delivery, "Take your words and use them powerfully to change minds, hearts and lives."

(2) A deep understanding of the Scriptures
No preaching can have power unless it comes from an accurate and deep understanding of the Scriptures. How can this happen? First, personal meditation on the text. Second, consulting as many commentaries as you can. (Every commentator themselves has consulted ten others, so by consulting even three commentators you have 30 wise men in your study - teachers whom God has given to the church). Third, second exegesis. Armed with the corrections that reading commentators brings, we study the text again.

(3) A deep understanding of Christian doctrine
This is software running in the background of the preacher's mind and heart. It's the preacher's Android platform. Doctrine is a broad understanding of the teaching of the Scriptures on all sorts of subjects so that a deep understanding of doctrine is the same as a deep understanding of the Scriptures. Which means that as the preacher understands the particular Scripture he is preaching from, a knowledge of the whole Scriptures is already helping him because it is in his mind.

(4) An organised journey
Nothing is more boring than a talk which turns out to be a long and seemingly endless collection of words! The audience need to know and feel where you are going. They need to have a start, an end, and a middle, at least. Whatever structure we use, there must be structure there. Without it, our listeners will think we have drifted off the path into the woods - and lost our way! Will he ever come back they think, and off to sleep they go!

(5) An interesting journey
On the subject of boring, no sermon should be boring. A preacher should raise and lower his voice, a preacher should use pauses and illustrations. None of them affected, all of them natural. This means the preacher is very interested in the world to which he preaches, the people to whom he preaches. He is constantly gathering anecdotes and illustrations storing them away for use at some future date. All good preachers are squirrels.

(6) A Gospel journey
Finally, somewhere in the preaching of God's Word, from wherever in the Scriptures, should emerge the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or at least some part of the Gospel. It is a great mistake to shoehorn in an artificial way every aspect of the Gospel into every sermon. Soon every sermon will sound the same. But since Jesus taught the two on the way to Emmaus that every Scripture in the Old Testament points to Him, we should find no problem discovering grace and mercy and salvation through Jesus Christ everywhere in the Scriptures.

One mark of a true New Testament Church is that preaching happens there. Without preaching the congregation drifts into error, follows the world, lives ungodly lives. They lose the joy of salvation and the hope of eternal life.

If no preaching happens at your place, leave it today - I have no hesitation saying that - and find a preaching church. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Where are you swimming: Whirlpool or River?

When the Severn River Floods
Living in the beautiful city of Worcester cut in half by the river Severn gives every walker the opportunity to see the meanderings and conduct of a river in flood.

There is a remarkable local section of the River Severn just downstream of the weir where the river actually flows backwards near the bank. Some underwater geography combined with a bend in the river conspire to create an enormous whirlpool where the water bankside is running the "wrong" way.

Further downstream from this big whirlpool are smaller eddies and whirlpools spinning off the large one.

Debris traps
And here is the observation - in each of these smaller whirlpools pieces of debris are stuck for hours or perhaps longer, going around and around in perpetual purposelessness.

While the rest of the river is filled with beautiful clear water, the whirlpool is filled with rotating debris: plastic bottles, branches, bags...

The Debris Trap Heart
Something like this can happen in the human heart. While the Lord is doing mighty and wonderful things in our lives and churches, we can find ourselves stuck in a whirlpool of debris - discouragement, hurt, pain, unforgiveness,  and any other hundred pieces of human debris an detritus - completely unaware of the river of goodness all around us. 

And Satan would love to keep us there! Not enjoying the benefits and blessings of his mighty flooding river of goodness that he promises will follow us all the days of our lives, but stuck in some tiny pool of bitterness, sorrow or disappointment from the past.

The example of Samuel
In 1 Samuel 16:1 we find an older godly man stuck in the whirlpool of the past. Samuel, the last judge of Israel was instrumental in bringing in the new age of the Monarchy. He was instrumental in anointing the first king of Israel, Saul. But that age was now past. God had a glorious new future in store for Israel - no less than the best king Israel ever had!

But Samuel can't see the mighty river of God's goodness and blessing. All he can see is the whirlpool of the past detritus of Saul's sin, and stuck in the whirlpool round and round he goes!

Wading out of the Whirlpool
The cure to whirlpool woefulness is prescribed by God to Samuel - get off your pity-party sofa, fill up your horn with oil, and anoint my next king. In other words, forget the past and move into the future, or to put it more colloquially, "get with the program."

This is the only cure to all kinds of whirlpool woefulness. To stop moping about the past (and very often a far less golden past than our proud hearts conjure up!) and by the grace of God to move into God's glorious and blessed future.

This is what Paul purposed to do.....