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Archive for Preaching

Esther - relevance and resonance

Heard a couple of sermons from Esther recently. God's doing his stuff all over the shop - moving players and set pieces: it's abundantly clear that although Ahasuerus has the throne, Haman has access to the King's ear, Esther has access to the King's heart and Mordecai has access to Esther, God is calling the shots.

But is there more than sex, scheming and sovereignty? Is Esther a book about Jesus? Or is it just about how God provided for his people in order that one Jesus might be able to come, as the seed of Abraham, and save?

According to the preacher, Esther is primarily about understanding the purposes of God in human history and seeing the interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility working without any seeming conflict.

Which is true. (And it seems that divine sovereignty and human responsibility actually work better together in the courtroom that many people think they will from the classroom).

But it's not the whole truth: because the gospel echoes throughout Esther.

Who is it that wins the favour of the King, but then shares the benefit of their relationship with their people? Esther - but she points the way to Jesus who says that the Father will love us because we love Jesus (John 14:21).

Who is it that triumphs against all odds and sees the enemy slain with his own gallows? Esther - but she points the way to the one who "through death" destroyed "the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil." (Heb 2:14)

Who lays down their life on behalf of their people in order to spare them from the judgment of the King? Esther - but she points the way to the one who doesn't merely risk his life, but lays it down for his people (John 15:13-14).

Esther does provide a fantastic, gutsy example to follow - but, were we part of the story, we'd be numbered amongst the helpless hordes who sit under threat of execution with no hope of saving themselves. And, if rather than just trying to highlight its relevance, we listen for it's gospel resonance, the book of Esther won't just point us to a great example: it'll point us to a great Saviour.

Salvation and the county Jail

Read Acts 16:25-40

The jailer's conversion is as sudden as it is unexpected: and yet the result is the same. His heart, now open to the gospel, leads him immediately to be concerned for Paul and his companions (he washes their wounds) and immediately gets baptised. Not only do all his household follow suit, but they rejoice with him at the good news that is now theirs.

Paul experienced the joy of seeing his jailer become his brother because he was ready to praise God and preach the gospel (singing songs while shackled?! Inmate preaching to a prison governor?!).

Are there places you go, or situations you find yourself in where you don't feel as though the gospel is relevant? Or people that you're hesitant to share the gospel with because you don't know how they'll react?

Consider how you would have reacted, had you been in Paul's situation: beaten unjustly, chained in the most secure cell in the prison – and all of it an illegal violation of your rights as a citizen! Maybe your vision of God is too small? Maybe your expectations of God are too low?

Ask God to fill you with the confidence and boldness to trust Him in every place and with everyone.

A dangerous deliverance

Read Acts 16:16-24

The slave girl is at the bottom of the pile. She is enslaved by men who use her for profit, enslaved by an evil spirit who enables her to know things that she shouldn't be able to know. And the spirit in her is not happy – because followers of Jesus have just turned up in their city. Paul takes his time before intervening – it's not safe to mess with people's profit margins. Not then, not now. (Like missionary William Carey, who went to preach the gospel in India and was unable to preach it in the parts of India controlled by Britain at the time because they feared that it might cause trouble and adversely affect the economy).

The bible says that Christ came to bring us freedom – but we would be wise to remember that this world profits from people being enslaved. Liberating people often threatens existing financial interests and results in serious opposition.

From slander to murder, we should not be surprised by the opposition that the liberating truth of the gospel brings.

God opened her heart

Read Acts 16:11-15

Lydia has all the hallmarks of a seeker: she was already interested in spiritual things, she had some knowledge of God, was a worshipper of God, presumably had (at least) some knowledge of the bible and was looking for more. But the bible does not say “she opened her heart” - rather it declares that “God opened” it.

If Lydia can't make it on her own, who can? The answer is no-one. No-one will ever become a Christian without the intervention of God. We simply don't have the power to open people's hearts – only God does.

Think of the non-Christians you know: how often do you pray for them? After all – prayer is how we call on God to act and to save.

But what means does God use to open her heart? He could have used a vision, or a dream or writing in the sky. But it didn't: God chose the moment that Paul was sharing the gospel with her. Having prayed – and trusting God to come through – get ready to be bold, step out in faith. Because God's top choice for opening people's hearts to the gospel is the point in time that someone is telling them about Jesus.

Building tomorrow's church

Read Acts 16:1-5

Paul started off as Barnabas's protégé and learns from him. As soon as he gets the opportunity, he calls Timothy to join his group and starts to mentor him.

If you've followed Jesus for any period of time, there will be people who can benefit from your help, encouragement and experience. Jesus discipled and trained men to succeed him in ministry. As did the apostles after them. As Paul encouraged Timothy himself to do in 2 Timothy 2:2.

The church should continue to grow. If you want you ministry to have an impact, you need to invest time in training and encouraging and discipling other Christians. All Christians should be both disciples (following Jesus) and discipling (making followers of Jesus) – Matthew 28:18-20.

Pray for the younger members of the church and those who have not been Christians for so long. And ask God for opportunities to get alongside them to help them grow and mature in their faith.

Sin and the sovereignty of God

Read Acts 15:36-41

Despite having made plans to go on a trip to help build up/consolidate the churches they've already worked with, Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp disagreement” about whether Barnabas's cousin, John Mark, should accompany them on their planned trip. So they split.

But they both go on living lives that are totally committed to God.

  1. What impact does it have when godly people fall out with each other?
  2. Are God's plans held back by their disagreement?
  3. What failures have you had or seen that God has used to further his kingdom?

Joseph, whose brother's sold him into slavery, experienced God's power this way: He says to them in Genesis 50:20 “ As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. ” Praise the God who can use even our most spectacular sins, grievous mistakes and abject failures for good: to the point of using the murder of his Son to save the species that killed him.

Mark 5 - The Liberation Of The Man Formerly Known As Legion

I preached the following at Alverstoke Evangelical Church back in June - and noticed recently that they've posted it online: The Liberation of the Man Formerly Known as Legion. For more sermons preached at Alverstoke Evangelical Church, see their sermons page

"Experimental Religion"

I was perusing the latest Banner of Truth magazine and noticed an article by Isaac Watts, entitled Rules for a Preacher's Conduct. (Impressive to still be being reprinted in periodicals 260 years after your death.)

He uses the term experimental religion and experimental preaching several times throughout the article. (He's not talking about wearing sandals, meeting in coffee houses and having "conversations" about what we think Christianity ought to be all about). He means Christianity that affects the way we live (ie. we are the subjects of the experiment, not Christianity). A form of religion that goes beyond mental assent to actually getting your feet wet. But not so much in the simplistic social justice sense that many modern (as in postmodern) Christians seem to, as in the experience of the interaction between the soul and the Holy Spirit and the conscience; the conflict between our proclivity to sin and desire for holiness. Or, in other words, the experiment is not in being good people so much as in being God's people, with an understanding of our need for God and the provision of the gospel, as the basis for change.

Trying to effect behavourial change (being good) without embracing foundational change (being God's) is like trying to drive a car without an engine. Seems to me we need more experimental religion.

Clarification:

I was attempting to distinguish between Pick'n'mix approach to religion (ie. I define value) where we take the bits that we like (e.g. caring for the poor, charitable giving, particular liturgical forms etc) and humble orthodoxy (ie. God defines value) in which we take the whole gospel, as revealed. In the former case, we are doubting God more than we doubt ourselves, in the latter we doubt ourselves more than we doubt God.

Watts' experimental religion centres on what Paul describes as "work[ing] out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

The Final Words of Anticipated Time

Or... The Last Sermon You'll Ever Hear

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ...Behold, I am making all things new....
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Revelation 21:3-8 (ESV)

Mark Driscoll is wrong (well... partly). The last "sermon" that is preached in the bible, is not an angel proclaiming the gospel in Revelation 14:6. It is God himself, declaring the good news that the gospel is fulfilled. That the hope of everyone worshipper has come true: that God has arrived.

The gospel is God's message about himself. And from the declaration of determined intent in Genesis 3 to the declaration of accomplished redemption in Revelation 21, to preach it is to preach the words of God. The honour of being a preacher is entirely that God uses us to speak his gospel (because it comes from him), with his authority (because he commands it) to his people (because he loves us). And on that point, Mark is right. Preaching is not pagan; it is not passé; it is powerful, honourable and necessary.

Oh - and it's also foolish. (1 Corinthians 1:21)

Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2 outlines our need for the gospel, God's provision in the gospel, God's ultimate purpose in making that provision and our present co-operation with God as he invites us to partner with him in the pursuit of that goal.

The first section (v1-10) deals primarily with personal impact of the gospel, while the second section (v11-22) outlines the impact but in a communal setting rather than an individual.

Download Ephesians_2.mp3

Philemon

The Epistle to Philemon is a relatively obscure letter written by Paul to accompany a run away slave called Onesimus. Here are some notes I made when I preached on this letter back in March.