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Archive for August, 2010

Here’s the text and audio for the five sola sermons.  Then a final thought:

Christ Alone
Audio

Grace Alone
Audio

Faith Alone
Audio

Scripture Alone
Audio

God’s Glory Alone
Audio

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We refocus on these fundamentals not simply as an exercise in doctrinal purity.  The point is to rediscover the true God.  Because God is the God of the Gospel.  To drift from the gospel is to drift from God Himself.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.  (Gal 1:6)

When a person ditches the gracious gospel in favour of a different gospel, they ditch God.  Because God is the God of the Gospel.  Conversely when a person trusts the gracious gospel they aren’t just converted to a different way of approaching God, they are converted to a different God.

Therefore the experience of hearing the pure gospel should not just be, “Ohh, so that’s how the God-I-always-believed-in saves people, now I’ll adjust my methods of attaining salvation.”

No.  When we hear the gospel, the overwhelming response should be:  “Ohh, so that’s what God is like.  I had Him all wrong.”

In the gospel we don’t just give people a different way to God.  We give them a different God.  The God of the Gospel.  And that’s liberation.  It’s not the surprise of seeing the-God-we-always-believed-in relating to us via some lovely principles – grace alone and faith alone.  It’s the earth-shattering shock of looking to the throne and, utterly unexpectedly, seeing that there sits the gracious, trustworthy Gospel-God.

For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of Living Water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  (Rev 7:17)

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God’s Glory Alone sermon

We’re like a little kid coming to God saying “Oooh, salvation, let me have a go!”  And like a Good Father, God says, “No, no, put salvation down.  Glen, I’ve told you a thousand times, PUT SALVATION DOWN.  It’s too big for you.  You’ll break it and it’ll break you.”  And we say “Aww but I wanna do it, let me, let me, let me.  All the other gods let their people save themselves!!”  And our Father says “Yes, but that just shows they’re not really gods are they?  Now put salvation down!”

His Grace guarantees His Glory…

…Because His Glory is to give.

Audio here

Text below…

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Two weeks ago Eastbourne hosted a major airshow called Airbourne.  The F-16 fly-pasts rattle your fillings loose and make your bowels shudder. People either love that kind of stuff or hate it.  I think it’s beyond awesome.

I was down at the seafront watching the show with a friend and the Red Arrows came on – the Royal Air Force’s display team.  They were extremely impressive and we were oo-ing and ah-ing until they did their trademark love heart formation.  Over the tannoy they dedicated it to some member of their publicity team.

“Cute” I thought.

“Idiot!” said my friend.

Huh?

“Idiot!!  Oh you idiot, you idiot, you total moron!”

“What’s the matter?”

“The dedication!!  I was supposed to ask them whether they’d dedicate the love-heart to my parents!  It’s their 40th wedding anniversary.  I was supposed to ask them and I forgot.”

“Oh” I said, my keen pastoral insight shining through.

To be honest there was nothing to say.  His father spent his life in the RAF.  It was their ruby wedding anniversary.  They were also at the seafront listening to the same commentary.  His mother had asked my friend that morning to make the request as a surprise for his dad.

He remembered many things about his parent’s anniversary that day.  But this one task slipped his mind.  A simple mistake to make.  But there was no taking it back.  The moment had completely passed – an irrevocable error.

And boy did I feel for him.

Because life is made up of irrevocable errors.  The deadline passes, the door closes, the opportunity vanishes.  The words have left your mouth, the email has been sent, the damage has been done.  And there’s no getting it back.

Of course the temptation is then to wallow in regret.  We go over the mistake again and again, turning back the clock in our minds as though we could somehow reverse the mistake through remorse.

But there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube.  Because God has designed the world in just this way.

He drives Adam and Eve out of paradise and determines that humanity must journey on to the city, not back to the garden.

He calls Abraham out of Ur and never back.

It’s one-way traffic through the Red Sea – they are coming out of Egypt, never to return.

It turns out that the curses and blessings of the covenant are discrete phases the people must pass through – first the judgement, then blessings on the other side.

They don’t avert judgement by cleaning up their act but bow their head to the coming exile.

Christ doesn’t avoid but passes through death to resurrection, calling His people to likewise take up their crosses.

Death then resurrection and no resurrection without death.

The very passage of time marks the relentless forward motion of the God of hope – the Redeemer God who is always moving on.

Through every stage of life – in every moment even – the Lord shuts the door behind us and beckons us forwards.

Of course we don’t like moving on.  We’d rather go back over our mistakes and redeem them ourselves.  We’d prefer to recapitulate our fallen humanity rather than allowing Christ to do it.  Our regret is a kind of mental salvation by works. But it’s futile and faithless.

Instead we ought to be resurrection people.  Those who know that redemption lies ahead, on the other side of these one-way gateways.  We look to the Lord who will restore to us the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).  But restoration is not in our hands and it’s not in the past.  It’s in the Lord’s hands and we receive it in the future.

Therefore we are prisoners of hope.  We must live by a forward looking faith in the redeeming Lord, leaving restoration in His hands and moving forward through countless points of no return.

Life is full of the irrevocable.  The Lord wants it that way.  So often the irrevocable makes us wallow in regret.  Yet the very opposite should be the case.  The door has been locked behind us and we should stop banging on it.  Instead we are beckoned forwards towards resurrection, knowing that life may consist in the irrevocable but that nothing is irredeemable.  And for those in Christ, all things will be.

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Scripture Alone sermon

In our Gospel Alone series we’ve had:

Christ Alone

Grace Alone

Faith Alone

But how do you get in on this gracious salvation in Christ?

Well faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).  Jesus-people must be bible-people.

And we must see the Scriptures as:

confronting

clear and consistent

and

all about Christ

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Sermon audio here.

Text below…

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Happy Friday

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Words in Proverbs – all age sermon

Sticks and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me?  Poppycock!

Here for your brutal critique I offer an all age sermon on the theme of words in Proverbs:

Audio here.

Powerpoint slides here.

But what power can change the heart???

The cross is heaven’s gentle answer to our harsh words

When it goes to our heart, our words will be healthy

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First published two years ago (here)

CH Spurgeon:

…to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A purely didactic ministry, which should always appeal to the understanding, and should leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry…

I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being “sound”, and they themselves come to be sound, too; and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy, and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!

Now I don’t think I need to argue that such critique applies to the circles in which I move and which to some degree I represent.  In fact to defend against such critique could easily end up proving the accusation!  I take it on the chin and it hurts.

But why are we like this?

A thousand reasons – but let me point to something I’ve been thinking about lately.  This is by no means even a major cause of such ‘desiccated’ ‘soundness’ but I think it’s emblematic of some of our larger problems.

I’ll phrase it as a question:  Why do we have preaching groups?

By preaching groups I mean circles of preachers (whether professional or novice) who get together to critique one another’s talks.  As of three weeks ago I’m in one.  In fact I lead one, and I’ve found it a great pleasure thus far, but we should never be afraid of questioning why we do what we do.  So why do we have preaching groups?

On one level, we have these groups because fanning into flame God’s gifts is something best done within the body.  We do it because preaching, while being the word of God, is also a human act, and human acts can be practised and improved upon.  We do it because we care about preaching and want to test it against Scripture and its proper Focus in Christ. We do it because standing in the pulpit, 6 feet above contradiction, is a dangerous place for someone to be (especially a young male / recent convert – those who tend to populate the preaching groups I’m thinking about).

Well then, why have I never joined a preaching group until being asked to lead one recently?

One answer: pride.  Submitting myself voluntarily to the “pat, pat, stab” critique on a weekly basis was never my idea of fun.  I told myself “I’m not sure I fit the mould of what is expected of a sermon and I’m not sure I want to submit to that mould.”  But perhaps that translates better as “I know best what a good sermon is and aint nobody gonna tell me how to do it.”  There’s definitely a good dollup of that going on.

But then, there are people I’d take critique from.  It’s never easy I know, but there are some who I would welcome rifling through my sermons to shake ’em up good and proper.  But there’s something I’ve never quite trusted about the preaching groups that have been available to me in the past.

Top of the list of things I mistrust has to be this: Preaching for the sake of critique is extremely dangerous ground.  (Note well the italicized phrase, I don’t want to be misheard here).

I still remember the first time I learned that preaching groups existed in which people wrote talks not for the sake of public worship or their youth group but for the sake of critique within the group.  I can remember blinking in total disbelief and asking the person to clarify what he’d said at least 12 times.

The idea of a sermon written for the benefit of 9 other hot-prots with clip-boards and a 21 point check-list makes my head spin.  The thought that these groups, run according to this dynamic, would nurture a generation of such preachers gives me cold sweats.  Really it does.

Hear me on this.  Critique for the sake of preaching is a good and godly thing.  Preaching for the sake of critique is treacherous.

I’ve written elsewhere on preaching itself as the word of God, but if this is the case then there is a spirituality and an authority to preaching that means the forms of critique to which we submit it should be carefully considered.

Imagine, for instance, that the standard of public intercessory praying at your church was pretty poor. Imagine that you decided to do something about it.  You invite all those who pray publicly at your church to a few sessions that you’re running.  Now imagine that these sessions consisted of asking each member to get up and pray out loud using prayers they’d written in advance.  We’d listen in, pen in hand, marking the prayers according to a pre-determined criteria.  Good idea?

But you say – preaching is not the same.  Well, perhaps not exactly.  But perhaps it’s a lot closer to praying than you think.

I’m rambling really.  Let me just list ten dangers for preaching groups off the top of my head.  These are dangers mind – they are not inevitable:

  1. Preaching itself is not considered according to its proper nature – a divine encounter
  2. With this spiritual nature minimized, the preaching itself takes on a more cerebral tone (see Spurgoen quote)
  3. The preacher is sorely tempted to preach for critique rather than for the Lord and for the congregation
  4. The listeners are trained in standing over rather than sitting under the word
  5. Preachers are taught to pretend that they’re communicating to real people (and actually that can be how a lot of live preaching sounds too – could there be a link?)
  6. Check-lists for critique become old wineskins that will only accommodate old wine
  7. Therefore we learn to preach according to the check-list
  8. The audience for the sermon becomes extremely narrow
  9. Not only is it possible to be unaffected by the word (as we concentrate on its delivery), we can even be trained in such an innoculation.  A skill that transfers beyond the preaching group.
  10. Praise for sermons becomes professionalized and tempered “Thanks, that was helpful.”

Can you think of more?

Well what can be done?

Here are some pointers I’ve given to our group that I’m hoping to emphasize and re-emphasize as we go.

  1. Make sure you preach what you’ve prepared to real people.  It could be to your sunday school, your spouse, your best friend, I don’t care – but preach it to someone who doesn’t have a clip-board.  And prepare it with that audience in mind.  This is non-negotiable.  We are not preaching for the sake of critique.
  2. Let the preacher themselves tell you their criteria.  If they say for instance: ‘I’m just wanting to highlight a single verse or a single word from this passage’, then assess things according to that.  Now you can discuss what makes a good criterion at another point – but don’t judge people according to check-lists that won’t necessarily fit.
  3. First thing I ask after the sermon is delivered is addressed to the preacher: What spoke to you most from the word in preparation.
  4. Next thing I ask is to the listeners: what struck you most from the word that’s just been proclaimed.
  5. At that point we discuss how the word has impacted us – we spend time being hearers and receivers of the word
  6. Only then do we discuss ways that the preacher has blessed us in the particular manner that they brought it home.
  7. Critique comes in the form of assessing the preacher against their own criteria.
  8. In the spirit of Spurgeon, both its didactic and its emotional aspects are up for discussion.
  9. We give praise to God for His word and for His preacher.
  10. We give praise to the preacher and thank them for how they’ve blessed us

In an ideal world we’d do all this by watching a video of the talk given in its true setting, but that’s often unrealistic.

Now some of you will say – that’s what all preaching groups are like, why are you so fearful of them.  I don’t know.  Am I being too cautious about preaching groups?

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