Monday, February 27, 2012

Michael Green on Evangelism (mp3s)

Michael Green is an evangelist, but in his own words "the term is too restrictive. It does not tell you who I am: a husband, father, grandfather and sports enthusiast. I am both an academic and a pastor, both driven and lazy, both humble and proud, both sociable and reclusive. I am a mixture. We all are. But at the core of that confused middle wihch is myself, there is a passion burning. It has been burning since my late teens, sometimes brightly, sometimes smouldering dully. It is simply this: I have found treasure - by no skill of my own - and I want to share it as widely as I can." (Compelled by Joy, Green: 2011)

Michael is prolific and one of the most energetic 80somethings I've ever met. He came to spend a day with us in Exeter between speaking at the Edinburgh and Liverpool Uni CU mission weeks. It was an honour to have him with my team and half a dozen students on the subject of evangelism.
And you can eavesdrop here:
Evangelism 1: Motivation
Evangelism 2: Expectancy
Evangelism 3: The outpouring of the Holy Spirit

A couple of highlights - on testimony: Six words - "I have found..." and "Come and see..."

And on the importance of the Holy Spirit illustrated by a lit and unlit candle (opening minutes of session 3).
1. The only difference is one is alight. Its only special because something beyond it lit it up.
2. Fire is always the same - candle or forest blaze.
3. All one candle can do for another is introduce it to the flame.
4. The longer the candle burns the smaller it gets.
5. Without the flame, the candle can do nothing.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Of H&M, Ben & Jerry’s and HDTV

The world is full of alluring things. This is a beautiful world and our hearts seem made for beauty.

The world has been populated with attractive things since the day it was made, since the Triune God made fruit good to look at and juicy to taste, since he made the hairless bipeds with all their curvy gangly bits that fascinate human eyes and captivate our hearts.

Beauty leads our hearts in all kinds of directions but what should most win us?

Read the rest of my article at What You Think Matters

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jesus + Abortion

"A baby in the womb is the same as a baby in a mothers arms".

Abortion has become a seemingly acceptable part of life in Britain. Must we swim with that tide? Or could we stand against it? I listened to Katia preaching at Newfrontiers' 15-19s conference, Newday on "Jesus + Abortion". 

Katia is a student on the Newfrontiers Leadership Advanced course I'm doing, a small part of which includes peer review of one anothers preaching to provide constructive feedback and training. We couldn't find much to suggest because we each felt ourselves deeply addressed on this emotive subject.

We have to think better about abortion. We have to live better on this issue.

We tried to give constructive feedback but mostly we felt personally addressed by God through her excellent and thorough preaching.

Its a half hour preach followed by a testimony and Q&A.
Download mp3: Jesus + Abortion by Katia Yeghnazar

Monday, February 20, 2012

We Gospel

Everyone has something they struggle with. New hearts live in bodies still awaiting resurrection.

Peter ran scared of his own people. Repeatedly. Of the cross. Of Christ being for all nations not just the Jews.

What will they think?

I met with a student leader today over coffee, with Galatians 2:11-3:1 open on the table.

Some characterise Galatians as a harsh letter but no one harshly says "the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me" - those are words of worship that come from a tender heart.

In Antioch Paul was in the room. Paul doesn't cast Peter out, but reminds him again of Christ.

Paul is heart-broken and confused by Peter and the Galatians, as we might be of ourselves.

How did I just do that.... again?

The Scriptures give us a window on an face to face pastoral conversation between two apostles. One "gospels" the other. Condemning him, but not condemning him, and drawing him back to the condemned and risen Christ.

Its the old old story. Hear it again.

Can I tell myself? And will you tell me?

We're trying to build more community in church. I long for our "Open door & open fridge" to be for those outside the church as well as within.

I found myself thinking "then we can talk about Jesus over breakfast" - as if among a group of Christians we wouldn't.

I make Peter's error too. Jesus to begin, then something more superficial to continue.

Peter at Antioch. Yeah, me too.

Evangelism: talk of Jesus. With Christians - Nod, smile, and be polite.

You too? We both noticed.

The temptation is to wallow and be sin focussed. There's enough despair in the world.

Peter was sin-focussed, hence the cover-up with law.

Paul tells it better. The Peter Life is over. The Christ Life is the real life now. 
Condemned with Christ, to live by faith. Now Christ living in me. The lover and giver of himself, in me. My life is Him now! Not "Am I a sinner or a saint" but "I'm in Christ".

Can we build more explicitly Christ community? Talking would be a start, but action too. Relationships that speak of inclusiveness and safeness rather than masks and distance.

Peter didn't say gospel-denying words, he lived them.

Can we love? Can we pursue the presence of Christ by the Spirit in the ordinary and not just in worship - though there too! Can we be distinctive because He is with us and so we're actually with one another not just in the same room?

Will you care so I know I can trust you? Will you welcome me so I know I'm home? Will you love so we can know Jesus?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hell: Because Love Wins

Last week I did a seminar for the Exeter Uni CU on 'what about hell?'

This shouldn't be easy to think about, and it isn't.

We watched the video below to get us thinking - asking ourselves where the "me too!" moments in the video are, and where the "what, no!" moments are. What resonates and what raises questions for us.When someone puts the issue out there its good to hear what's being said.

I wanted us to think about how we feel about hell, or more broadly the prospect of divine judgment (since our doctrinal basis of fellowship only specifies: "The Lord Jesus Christ will return in person, to judge everyone, to execute God's just condemnation on those who have not repented and to receive the redeemed to eternal glory.")

Emotionally the subject is difficult, very difficult, personally. Its about people I know who today refuse to come to Christ (i.e. repent).

It's about how we sit between the final Hallelujah chorus (Rev 19), and Paul's unceasing anguish and sorrow for those he knows who don't know the love of Christ (Romans 9:2). How does that make sense? I'm not sure we'll ever really be ready to sing the Hallelujah chorus before it's sung on the final day (despite the fact that scratch choirs sing it every Christmas as they put on Handel's Messiah).

Books on hell should be tear-stained.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and then shed his blood for them.

If I'm not on the verge of tears and churning up inside then I don't think I can talk about this.

With tears the subject is difficult because it's the love God that moves us, and we have to ask - how can God love and people be judged.

In some cases we have no issue with that - (for right or wrong) everyone thinks certain people ("the evil people" **) should be punished... but it becomes a problem for us when we think about the people we love. How can I love someone and God turn them away, or worse?

To help us think about love we listened to a clip of Peter Cook & Dudley Moore's The Psychiatrist sketch that illustrates how true love is jealous love.  I think this is where we begin to find an answer to there being judgment and a God of love. It's not a puzzle to solve, its part of what love is like.  Seeing also that the LORD calls himself jealous, and has a burning love for his Son, his people, and his world and will not tolerate attacks on them.

Its this burning love that is withheld in extreme patience every day until Christ returns, its this love that will either burn for us (as the Son's bride) or against us.

Bell finally observes that the problem people have on the hell question is that we have nice Jesus behind whom lurks a nasty Father... so he says, lets not talk about "hell"... whereas surely our answer is found in seeing that behind loving Jesus is the fountain of all love, his generous Father. Trinity isn't the complicated bit, it's the only way the gospel makes sense. 

The passionate love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the flame of Yah that burns with a love strong as death is where all things come together, because in the end, love wins.


** Bell suggests saying "Gandhi is in Hell" its a stretch... change it to Hitler and the video wouldn't sound so liberated would it? For right or wrong most of us think there is a line somewhere. Usually around virtue rather than with reference to Christ... abstract examples are one thing, its closer to home that it feels so stomach churning - and it probably should.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

We believe a better gospel than this

I've nothing personally against whoever is behind this video (below), it just makes me sad to see the good news painted so small. I know I've spoken badly myself, and believed this sort of message at times too.

A friend's four year old daughter followed Godwin's Law:  'He doesn't really love Jesus, does he? Is he a Nazi?"

The problem is when our beautiful Saviour Jesus is reduced to the cold and functional and logic solution to a problem... rather than being the one who is sent out in love from his generous Father in the power of the Holy Spirit to give himself for us and to us, to catch us up into the sweetness of the life and love of the Triune God.

Better stories and reflections on this:
Watch it at your peril... and lets please believe better, and live better and proclaim better...
Reading The Good God would be a good way to win your heart to the better story.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Communicating for a Change: Andy Stanley

Is it acceptable that huge amounts of energy is poured into someone preparing a sermon that is promptly forgotton, not talked about and may not change lives? 

Now, of course, preaching isn't primarily about conveying information but it is about communication - of Christ. And what if that doesn't actually happen? As a preacher I have to ask myself - why might much of what I say lost? How could even the main point of my sermon be missed? Might it be because I need to communicate better.

As a 32 year old with over 250 sermons under my belt in church and student contexts. I'm thankful for a lot of input on Biblical accuracy but feel need for more help in actually communicating.
, there is obviously an enormous amount for me to learn

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley & Lane Jones comes very highly recommended. I feel like I've benefitted from it since long before reading it, as people have commended it to me and shared the lessons they've learned. Over the last six months I've been preaching noteless which is one of his big suggestions - and now finally I've read the book.

It didn't disappoint. It's a quick read. Excellent communication. The first part is a narrative about communicating that is gripping gulp-moment reading, and then the principles are drawn out. The storytelling is more gripping but by the mid-point I really wanted to learn to do this better.

Stanley advocates a philosophy of communication, not a style of preaching. He advises the flow of a message being Me - We - God - Us - You. Walking from how this effects me, and then us... then bringing one point from God's word, before showing its effect on 'You' and then painting a future in which we believe God's word. Not revolutionary, but clear. And I'm seeing the approach improve the preaching of freinds, and mine too I think. Preparing to communicate better takes more preparation, but it's worth doing well.

Sean Green: The fat king is dead 
Stu Alred: Generosity & Community

Questions might be asked about how to apply this book whilst retain an expository approach. Stanley doesn't seem to primarily work through books. But then I recall hearing Dick Lucas' well refined single point preaching - thoroughly exegetical yet with one big idea. A big idea combined with a transforming-faith-aim. The preacher is always in danger of drowning that point with all the fascinating discoveries from the study...Stanley warns against preaching three sermons in one sermon. Less is more.

Clear communication isn't opposed to letting Scripture set the agenda of our preaching - preaching Christ is non-negotiable, and preachers want to proclaim Christ so that he will be heard and encountered.

James Stewart's Heralds of God has recently been my must-read on preaching, Communicating for a Change is a very different book but deeply helpful and a book I'd widely recommend. Even if you don't follow all of his guidance learning to really communicate is a lesson no preacher can afford to miss.

This may be taken allegorically

Ideally a film should show and not tell. Better for action to tell a story than to need a voiceover.  Occasional commentary is ok, but excessive use is annoying and ought not to be necessary. The Bible is packed full of narrative and most of it doesn't include explicit explanation of the events. Leaving people often to avoid narrative because they don't know what to do with it.

Then Paul takes on some of that narrative and says "this may be taken allegorically". He's zoomed out to look at a story arc from Abraham and his two sons through to the church situation in the first century (and today).

Alarm bells sound over breasts that represent the two testaments of the Bible and little foxes who represent sexual temptations - depending on which way you're over-reading The Song of Songs. Permit allegory and you let people make a text mean whatever they want... perhaps a Scripture-writing apostle can do it, but we better not. What's going on?

The fear of allegorical readings is that it feels like a license to print money, to make anything say anything without controls and understanding or explanation. Sometimes its heart-warming, sometimes it feels loopy. Yet using this method Paul draws out liberating gospel teaching from a narrative that we might otherwise neglect. And if he can do it there, why not elsewhere too?

Seems that all Paul does is Biblical Theology. He sees types and shadows of the gospel and finds The System of Things. Always centred upon Jesus. He's doing what the writer to the Hebrews does in showing that The Tabernacle is about The Cross. Good allegory is just that, Biblical Theology, its Typology... which for what its worth is actually what I think happens when you say The Song of Songs is about Christ and the church. Things that are models of other things... like David to Jesus... like the Tabernacle to the Cross.

Allegory like Paul does in Galatians 4 is just about stepping back and seeing the gospel, it takes a spiritual sense, a lively heart, to see the gospel where it's not explicit and yet where it's clearly painted, as it is all across the canvas of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and the whole Old and New Testaments. Failure to see how the books of Moses testify about Christ left the Pharisees unable to come to Christ when he stood in front of them. See him.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Of Lovers and Whores: Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea

"This is the work of ministers to tell people what riches of mercy there are in God, and that all the treasures of those infinite riches of the infinite God are in Jesus Christ, and to be communicated through him." 

This was the aim and achievement of the puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, gospel preacher. In the preaching represented by this 134 page book he holds out Christ, from Hosea 2:14-23, with warmth and tenderness and prophetic insight, to the hearts of his listeners.

£4.50 + p&p (20% discount codes often available online).

Of Lovers and Whores: Jeremiah Burroughs on Hosea 2:14-23

Cover design: James Watts.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

FP Impact: Church History & World Mission

For the past three years I've had the privilege and pleasure of introducing Newfrontiers FP Impact interns to 'Church History and World Mission'. It's a one day thing so it's a high altitude survey, that dips into things rather than really dwelling on them.

These are the notes:
Extracts from key figures in church history

The aim is to see the battle for The Triune God through church history, to do some historical theology by reading old texts, and to see where some of the moves have been in the mission of the church from early strength in North Africa and Turkey to the seeping influence of Aristotle and the warm glow of the puritans.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Preacher: proclaim the word of God!

Mike Reeves on Trinitarian implications for preaching:
When I am invited to preach somewhere, things go like this:
READER: (reads set Bible passage very nicely and then says) This is the word of the Lord.
PEOPLE: mumble
LEADER: Thank you, Reader. And now, I’m afraid, Reeves is going to come and try to explain that passage to us.
REEVES: (thinks to himself) Oh no, I’m not! This isn’t going to be some English Comprehension exercise. I intend to proclaim the word of God! (walks to pulpit/lectern, trying to shake off grumpiness)
I know, it’s a bit pedantic, but it comes from the fear that we’ll merely study the Scriptures as interesting texts instead of hearing them as God’s very words that hold out Christ and draw us to him. For the Spirit breathed out those words that we might fix our eyes on him, the one who reveals the Father to us. Charles Spurgeon, the twinkle-eyed master-preacher of the nineteenth century, put it like this:
The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‚We preach Christ, and him crucified.‛ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.
Yes! For Christ is the Word of God. Without him we would be ‘blinder than moles’, never dreaming of how Fatherly God is. But the Spirit-breathed Scriptures proclaim him as the radiance of his Father, the only one who can share with us the true life of knowing and being loved by his Father.