- Jonathan Lamb's wife works as an executive assistant to support him in his role as International Director of Preaching for Langham Partnership. I find that kind of cool - a reassuring example that ministry and marriage do not have to seriously conflict. Feel free to support the work of Langham Partnership as they help train and equip churches and church leaders in the majority world. As in give them your cash. And pray for them.
- I've recently started cycling to work - it's a delightful 10 mile commute which goes through a local nature reserve. It's amazing how much more visible bits of glass lying on the ground are when you're cycling. Oh - and passers-by and taxi drivers laugh at you if, unfamiliar with your brand new clips, your foot gets stuck to your pedal and you almost fall over. Just in case you were wondering.
- Mushrooms can be peeled. Utterly pointless, but strangely fun.
Archive for tag Jonathan lamb
2 Corinthians 5:10-21
After a brief welcome by convention chairman, Paul Moore (St Wilfrid's, Cowplain) Michael Herbert (Cosham Baptist) introduced as usual. We sang And Can It Be, How Deep the Father's Love, You Chose the Cross (Soul Survivor finally getting a look in!) and Above All Powers.
"Flattery is a bit like smoking - it does you no harm unless you inhale."
Jonathan described sitting in a service station and being unable to avoid overhearing a conversation between a couple of insurance salesmen. The older man was advising the younger on how to manipulate your way to a sale: from appropriate dress for the city vs in a village. Different approaches to take when selling to men and women. Physical posture - when to sit, when to stand. But it was all about manipulating people into notches on a balance sheet - not about serving or helping the customer. The motivation is entirely selfish.
Paul is facing critics who likewise have a warped value system. They are not preaching or working from pure motives. He explains 3 major motivations for mission.
1. We are loved by Jesus our Saviour 5v14
v13 Christ's love controls us. We are not driven primarily by a sense of need. Nor of guilt or a desire for fulfilment. It is love that compels us into action.
Christ died for all
∴ all died - ie. death to our old life
I no longer live for myself - ie. the centre of gravity in his life has radically shifted. Unlike a t-shirt design "Today is all about me," for the Christian today is all about Christ.
I live for Christ - ie. his life is my life. We give everything because he gave everything.
Or as the NEB puts it: "the love of Christ leaves me no choice."
What does this look like? e.g. A young Christian guy with a degree from Oxford working in Yakutz in Russia. An area with permafrost - so all pipes are above ground. Temperatures reach -60°C in winter. Why? Working with young people to share the gospel. "It's worth it to see them come to know Christ."
2. We are responsible to Jesus our judge 5v10
On Sunday, June 25th, 1865, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual pain; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. -- Hudson Taylor (Quoted from A Retrospect)
The judgement is not of our salvation but of our stewardship. Have we done well with what God entrusted to us?
Building for eternity. 1 Cor 3:10-15 - which is clearly talking about Christians, because Christ is the foundation. The message is clear: how we live now matters - the judgement is practical. How do we use the gifts, time, resources available to us?
Two parables Matthew 13 - Farmer finding treasure; Merchant finding pearl. In both cases joy at what they had found enabled the reckless pursuit of what mattered most.
During the time of the Rwandan genocide, a Christian leader and his family, who were working with and caring for refugees, were given the chance to escape - but he responded "If I cannot share my people's pain, I cannot share the gospel with them." He knew what it was to use what he had well.
2 Tim 4:7,8 - we are, like Luther, to be primarily concerned with two days: today & that day. Jesus is our judge & he's coming back - our lives should reflect our belief that that is true.
3. We are sent by Jesus the King 5v20
How do we see people? (v16) We are no longer seeking to judge people according the distinctions of the world around us, like skin colour, image, ethnicity, social status, wealth etc. We are to see people through the eyes of the gospel - men and women who need to be reconciled to God.
How do we explain the message? v17 New creation: It is not an addon, an appendage or a boost. The closest analogy that Paul could describe was not metamorphosis, nor birth but creation itself. It is a message of total, radical transformation.
v18,19,21 New status: we are reconciled, forgiven and made righteous.
How do we fulfil the mission? (v18) We are Christ's ambassadors - not in a lofty sense, but a humble one. There is a combination of authority (we speak on Christ's behalf as ambassadors) and urgency (we beg).
What we need more than anything is the right motivation. More than strategies, plans or programmes: our greatest need is the motivation that flows from a fresh vision of Jesus Christ.
Nothing is more important for the recovery of the church's mission (where it has been lost), or its development (where it is weak), than a fresh, clear and comprehensive vision of Jesus Christ. When he is demeaned, and specially when he is denied, in the foulness of his unique person and work, the church lacks motivation and direction, our morale crumbles and our mission disintegrates. But when we see Jesus, it is enough. We have all the inspiration, incentive, authority and power we need. -- John Stott
We are loved by Jesus our Saviour; we are responsible to Jesus our Judge; we are sent by Jesus our King. Let's go.
The meeting closed with us singing "Jesus: be the centre" and "Be thou my vision."
I haven't yet had the time to write up my notes from the final session of Living Word - I hope to do so on Monday.
It was an excellent conference - clear, concise and challenging preaching. The MP3s will hopefully be available online in the next month or so.
UPDATE: Make that Wednesday
The inestimable Don Churchman introduced this morning with two hymns: "Thou art the everlasting word" and "Master speak thy servant heareth."
Jonathan again began by mentioning the work of Langham Partnership - mentioning the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where there are churches which have 200+ people, but only 2 or 3 bibles. And of an event for training pastors where not even all the pastors that turned up had their own bibles. They are dealing with situations where they literally tear a bible in half and one pastor will preach from the old testament and other from the new.
G K Chesterton observed that when people stop believing in the truth, the result is not that they believe in nothing - but rather they believe in anything.
We live in a culture which tends to assume that our values, morality and religion, can be assembled in a lego-like fashion from which ever ideas take our fancy.
There is a growth of interest in Hinduism which, with it's more relaxed attitude to dogma, seems increasingly in tune with contemporary relativistic thought in Britain.
Jeremiah was a man who stood against the tide at a watershed moment in Israel's history.
v1-8 The challenge of truth
Jeremiah's prophecy is not fatalistic. It may be bleak, but it is offered on the basis that there is still time for repentance. Still an opportunity to find mercy.
Truth for critical times. Babylon was on the move - Nebuchadnezzar's army was now a threat to Jerusalem. For the first time it was beginning to look as though Jeremiah's prophecies of doom might actually turn out to be true.
The seriousness of the situation leads to a national fast being called. But there is a difference between fearing men (which makes us want to manipulate God into protecting us) and fearing God (and genuine repentance). Israel only want to repent of the consequences of their sin.
But the fast means an unusually large audience for Jeremiah as people make their way to Jerusalem for the fast.
It was the word of the Lord. v2,4,6 "The words I have spoken." An example of the dual authorship of scripture - it is more than "lovely literature." It is (cf 1 Thes 2:13) God's authoritative, powerful word. Jeremiah compares it to fire in his bones and to a hammer.
All the words I have spoken v2. God's wrath (v7), judgement (v3) and mercy (v3) are all part of the message. Jeremiah's faithfulness requires him to proclaim the entirety of God's message.
v9-26 Confrontation with the truth
How truth is rejected - in 3 short scenes.
Scene 1: It is read publically in the temple. Macaiah understands the significance of the prophecy and reports it to his father, an official.
Scene 2: It is read to the officials. The officials are disturbed as they hear the message - they become afraid and so they take it to the king.
Scene 3: It is read to the king. Jehoiakim openly rejects it. It is read in sections and as each section is finished, he cuts it off and carefully and deliberately drops it into the nearby fire. Not an angrily or impulsively, but slowly and deliberately and listening to the whole thing. Ignoring the pleas of his wiser officials. And with no apparent understanding of the significance of what he has just done.
But he sufficiently annoyed to order the arrest of Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch.
Truth is under attack today - in a variety of ways. Often it is relativised. Absolutes are denied.
A Christian girl was advised by her counselor to sleep with her boyfriend. When she objected to this prescription, her counselor said: "If it is functionally helpful, it is legitimate."
The reality is, however, that truth liberates. Freedom is only found in the environment for which we were intended. We need truth to survive, like a fish needs water. A fish finds freedom not in jumping out of a bowl into air, but in discovering a more water. We find freedom not in abandoning truth but in the embodiment of truth: Jesus.
v27-32 Truth stands forever.
It will be fulfilled. v30 The king who threw out God's word will himself be thrown out.
Isaiah 55:10-11 declares that God's word will accomplish its purpose. Every time.
Jonathan told of a friend of his who he had witnessed to at school over a period of years and seemed to get nowhere. They split up and went to different universities and, in the first week of Uni, this guy went to the Christian Union and was saved.
It will last v28,32 Jeremiah prepares another scroll.
Isaiah 40:6,8 "The word of our God stands forever."
This second scroll shows the pathetic futility of Jehoiakim's rejection of God's word. He merely sealed his own destruction.
No matter what opposition his word faces, God is sovereign.
We are, like Luther, to "throw the bible into the congregation." Expose them to the truth.
We finished by singing "Stand up, stand up for Jesus."
2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10
Michael Herbert (Cosham Baptist) introduced as usual, with a series of hymns: "Praise my soul the King of Heaven" (a modified, explicitly trinitarian version), "You're the word of God the Father," "Jesus, Hope of the Nations," "From the Breaking of the Dawn" and "Lord, I come before your Throne of Grace."
Jonathan kicked off with a chinese proverb: "To prophesy is extremely difficult - especially if you want to prophesy with regard to the future."
Most contemporary prophecy is pessimistic: commentators expect increasingly severe environmental and economic problems ahead.
Yet the more uncertain the times, the more we want to know the future. Recent article about young business people in Manhattan visiting a psychic. "Psychics are better than friends because they can tell you where you're going and give you hope for the future" one young businesswoman was quoted as saying.
Our generation is the first in over a hundred years to have lower hopes than our parents.
One common response is to fall into short-term hedonism - living for the weekend.
Hope shapes the present. Christian hope is not a fanciful hope as in "I hope I'll pass my exams" or "I hope the preacher won't go on to long this evening" - such hopes come with no guarantees of being true. It is based on what God has already done, which verifies and authenticates the promises he has made.
The more clearly we see the future, the more deliberately we can live now.
v16-18 Living in two worlds - 3 contrasts
v16 Outward decline and inward renewal. Living in this world while participating in the world to come. Our bodies inevitably decay, but our appreciation of the future should grow. We experience this world while anticipating the world to come.
v17 Present trouble and future glory. All our suffering is light and momentary when compared with weight of eternal glory.
Like climbing a mountain - struggling and wanting to give up - but knowing the vista at the top is worth effort.
We often speak of someone who has been ill as being a shadow of their former selves. We are now a shadow of our future selves.
v18 The seen and the unseen. Two ways to looking. Some believe that all religions are mocked by the hard white smile of the skull - that the immediately visible is all there is and therefore all that matters. Troubles, however, help us see the transient nature of this age.
The contrast here is not physical vs. spiritual - it is present vs. future.
At John Stott's 80th birthday party, someone quipped that is is hard to get someone a present at 80 because, by the time they are 80, most people have everything they need. Uncle John, on the other hand, has nothing. And we don't want to spoil that. He has invested in the age to come.
5:1-5 Anticipating the future
v1 What will it be like then? 'We know ... an eternal house in heaven.' v1 'Mortality swallowed up by life' v4.
Paul speaks as a tent maker who spent significant portions of his life travelling to spread the gospel. He looked forward to the day when he would pack his flimsy tent up for the last time and move into his the permanent house his Heavenly Father had prepared for him.
He has a robust vision of heaven - it's a solid house, not an ethereal experience wearing celestial negligee and hanging out on a cloud.
Death and decay will be overcome; life will consume them.
vv2,4 What do we feel now? We groan (cf Romans 8:19-23). We experience an inevitable restlessness and tension.
v5 How can we be sure? 1. God had this in mind all along. This is not a new plan, nor is it Plan B. God always intended it to end up this way.
2. God has given us a sign. The Holy Spirit is the first installment of what we will receive in the age to come. Like the way they used to serve coffee on British Rail trains in the dining car: the first waiter would give you the milk and sugar - an indication that the coffee was on its way.
Can be easy to talk glibly about this until it is staring us in the face. We must consider this deeply and soberly so that the experience does not catch us off guard.
v6-10 On our way home
Visions of the future are often given to those facing particular difficulty - like Jeremiah, Daniel, and the Apostle John on Patmos.
v7 We live by faith. We don't see Jesus, but we know his presence and we trust God more than we trust ourselves.
v9 We live to please him. This goal must reign supreme above every other ambition: we will see him. It is vital that we live in anticipation of that day.
We live in the light of eternity. We must see our life as it is: the prelude, the backstory, for eternity. Ironically, this actually makes life now more significant - it means our lives are more than a vapour that is forgotten. What we do now matters - our stewardship will be judged.
We should live with our eyes on the horizon and our boots on our feet.
The final hymn was "There is a higher throne."
Paul Moore (St Wilfrid's) introduced briefly.
Jonathan spoke from the 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
He introduced the topic by describing the problems he has with their digital TV set. Apparently A/V sync is a relatively common problem: mouths flapping, but not corresponding to the words being heard. A lack of coherence that makes it hard to take someone seriously.
To lack coherence between what we say and what we do is to lack integrity. Just as buildings are inspected for structural integrity to ensure that all the parts are in good repair and fitting together well, so we need to examine our lives.
There is a consistent link in the NT between holiness & mission, between godliness & ministry.
So what do we do?
1. The Gospel must be embodied
1:5 Effective communication. We communicated more than just information - it came with conviction and power. They modeled what they preached.
God's word, accompanied by the power of the spirit and embodied by the minister makes for a powerful combination.
A prophet is not God's postman who simply delivers God's message - he must embody it.
2:6-8 Compassionate Identification. Paul not only shared the gospel message with the Thessalonians, but he shared his life as well. Sharing the gospel may be getting harder, but sacrificially sharing your life is harder still.
It is not from a pulpit but a cross that power-filled words are spoken: sermons need to be seen as well as heard.
2. The Preacher must be approved
2v4 Entrusted by God. Implies testing - a continual cycle of testing and further being entrusted. Just as Paul's passion for sharing the gospel flowed from a deep sense of his calling, so the burden of trust we have received should impel us.
2v4-6 Pleasing God. 'as you know' v5, 'God is our witness' v5, 'you are witnesses and so is God' v10. Our sole ambition is God's pleasure. Here criticism is our friend - because it reveals the true state of our hearts. Success in ministry to easily breeds pride as an artificial motivational-substitute.
[In its early stages] pride looks and feels like energetic commitment, sacrificial zeal, selfless devotion. -- Eugene Peterson
If our motivation for ministry is pride, we will be exhausted if we try to live two lives - we have a constant need for God's strength.
Ministry must be modeled
A godly example 2:10-12 Paul declares that his behaviour was holy, righteous and blameless among them. cf 2 Corinthians 6:3 - He did his utmost to ensure that nothing he did caused them harm; caused them to doubt the truth of the gospel.
Christian character is as much taught as caught.
Jonathan gave the example of a treasurer at the church he attended as a small boy who was found to have embezzeled significant amounts of money over a period of several years. It was shocking and extremely disturbing for the church. (He went on to discuss how it had been handled in a godly way, the man had repented and demonstrated his sincerity over many subsequent years in humble service).
Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity. (2 Tim 2:19). Paul's faithful conduct made the gospel seem more credible - and he pushed others to follow his example.
Richard Baxter, the puritan who wrote the Reformd Pastor, declared that we must study as hard to live well as to preach well.
He quoted a survey which indicated that the No.1 reason for boys abandoning church during their teenage years is seeing a disconnect between their father's conduct in church and conduct at home.
There is a ripple effect:
v5 the gospel came to you
v6 you welcomed the message
v8 it rang out from you everywhere
v6 you became imitators of us
v6 you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia
Ministers need to:
Look out: Keep watch. Are we exhibiting signs of spiritual decline?
Find help: Support networks. How do we care for one another? How do we avoid isolation? How do we pursue accountability?
Keep learning: Stay humble. Keep seeking to understand the scriptures more deeply and clearly. How do we avoid acting as though we've reached a spiritual plateau?
The wednesday morning session was introduced by Mark Seager (Paulsgrove Bapist). We sang "When we walk with the Lord" and then I read the scripture.
Jonathan introduced this difficult passage by telling us about a conversation a friend of his who is a pastor in London. This man had many years experience as a Christian - but had recently been involved pastoring a young couple whose 4 year old daughter had a serious illness which eventually proved fatal. And he described how this trauma brought in its wake a wave of doubt; questioning things he had been certain of for half a century.
Only blind faith is invulnerable to doubt. And there is no merit in blind faith. A schoolboy definition of faith goes: "faith is believing something you know aint true" - a similar definition is taken by the so-called "New Atheists."
He spoke of students who had tried assiduously to keep the studied discipline completely separate from their faith - lest their faith be threatened.
Biblical faith does not recognise these options. We are encouraged to ask impossible questions. To wrestle with them. Habakkuk starts his prophecy with questions and ends with worship. A christian who claims to have no doubts should be treated with the same degree of skepticism as a husband who claims never to have arguments with his wife.
If we try to live consistently and allow our faith to inform our lives there will inevitably come a seemingly inexplicable problem which confronts and threatens our faith. Nevertheless we should distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Only a believer can doubt - doubt is the questioning of an already held belief.
Jeremiah's doubt: Faith in two minds
v7,8,10 He felt isolated. "I am ridiculed all day long: everyone mocks me." He had just received a humiliating and painful punishment in the stocks. He was nicknamed "Terror on every side" - a phrase that often cropped up in his prophecies. He was somewhat paranoid fearing a whispering campaign against him.
Isolation is demoralising and often leads to doubt. And yet it's common. Being the only Christian in your workplace. Or in your family.
v7 He felt betrayed. God had given him prophecies but had yet to make good on them. Jeremiah was looking increasingly like a false prophet as the doom he predicted didn't take place. He felt as though he'd been sent out on false pretenses.
v14-18 He felt depressed. He ends the chapter despairing to the point of being suicidal. "I would rather have been aborted than live the life I have" is the essence of his message. The incredibly graphic language describes the way he feels, rather than being specific curses.
But he is not alone in this depression. Elijah, after the showdown with the prophets of Baal in which both he and God were vindicated, pleaded with God to take his life.
Battered emotions can produce a crop of doubt more devastating than an atheists hardest questions.
An then there was another prophet, alone crying out "My God! my God! Why have you forsaken me?" from a cross against a darkening sky...
Jeremiah's faith: talking straight with God
He was totally honest. "We need not attempt to bottle it up because God invites us to pour it out." -- John Goldingay
There is no point or room for pretense with God. "Unreality towards God is the wasting disease of much modern Christianity" -- Jim Packer
This honesty is not merely emotional catharsis: it is an adult and appropriate way to deal with issues in a trusting relationship.
v9 He felt compelled to speak. "His word is like a fire. I am weary of holding it in; I cannot." Going on is hard, but not going on is impossible. This works because true faith is not something we conjure up, but a gift of God. Irresistible grace. It is there - and in times of doubt we can experience the strength of God's grip on us as our grip on him seems to weaken.
v11-13 He was sure of God's presence and power. "The Lord is on my side like a mighty warrior." God was there and Jeremiah was confident of rescue.
When they are in Doubting Castle in Pilgrim's Progress, Hopeful reassures the doubting Pilgrim by reminding him of the great things that he was already seen accomplished.
We can look back at the cross and consider what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us on our behalf. We may not understand what we are experiencing and it may not fit neatly into a box, but the cross assures us that it is not God's indifference or abandonment.
"faith ... is the art of holding on to something your reason has once accepted in spite of your change of moods" -- C. S. Lewis
He spoke of a family he knows where the father is suffering from cancer. His latest prayer letter was characteristically upbeat - asking for prayer that they would not spend time looking inwards so much as upwards.
We need, as Martin Lloyd-Jones put it, to spend more time speaking to ourselves than listening to ourselves.
This is not false comfort, nor a cheap hallelujah - a dark night of the soul can be used to build a stronger, more adult, godliness.
It is not so much great faith we need as faith in a great God." -- Hudson Taylor.
We closed by singing "I know not why God's wondrous grace"
2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Michael Herbert (Cosham Baptist) is, as usual, introducing the evening sessions. Unless I missed a hymn as we were arriving, we started with “O for a thousand tongues” followed by “In Christ alone,” “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds” and “Oh to see the dawn (The Power of the cross).” Then the reading (2 Cor 4:1-15) and a final hymn (“Who is there like you?”). Where would we be without Church of Christ the King, Brighton?
Jonathan Lamb led off with a brief description of Langham Partnership International – describing how the global face of Christianity has changed in the last 50/60 years from being 75% in the northern hemisphere in 1950, to the opposite situation today where 75-80% of the world's Christians live in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Langham Partnership works in partnership with churches in these countries to help train leaders and equip the church. Jonathan is particularly involved in Langham Preaching – training bible teachers and preachers in universities, seminaries and churches.
Jonathan started by telling the story of a student he was interviewing with regard to a post working full time for a Christian ministry in Europe. Having determined that the student in question was a Christian, he asked him why he wanted the post. The students response was twofold: he wanted financial security and he wanted to travel Europe.
No-one reading Jeremiah or Paul would come to the conclusion that Christian ministry is pleasant, safe or fulfilling. The call of Christ is exceedingly costly. 20 churches closed in Algiers this year, due to persecution. Village in Indonesia attacked, 3 churches destroyed, 4 christians tortured and then murdered, 56 injured. Bishop murdered recently in Iraq. An apparent conspiracy of silence in Turkey meeting the team investigating the recent murder of 3 christians.
Paul's ministry is built upon a basic paradox: one which – humanly speaking – seems absurd, yet makes sense of both the gospel and of our service. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Just as God's power is seen in the apparent weakness of Jesus on the cross, so his power is displayed through our weakness in serving him: Christians are like teabags – their true strength is only drawn out in hot water.
v1-6 Ministry priorities
v1 Responsibility. We have this ministry by God's mercy. The perennial challenge faced by christians is discouragement; Paul served because he had been called. We serve not out of a subjective sense of our own ability, but because we have a God-appointed task to perform.
v2 Integrity. We renounce underhanded methods. Every aspect of ministry is to be above board - open & transparent. There is no spin; no manipulating the message to be different according to the audience. Our lives should help validate the message.
v3,4 Realism. We should not be under any illusions about the difficulty of the task: many people will simply ignore the message of the gospel. Paul was fully aware of the reality of spiritual warfare: he was neither obsessed by it, not arrogantly dismissive.
v5 Faithfulness. Ministry is not an ego trip - we proclaim Christ. We don't promote ourselves. Nothing is allowed to undermine this message: we lift up Christ because it is only through Christ that we know the glory of God. Faithlessness == fruitlessness - because the we rely on the power of God which operates through our weakness.
v7-12 Ministry experience
v7-9 Weakness & Power. Jars of clay could be a reference to an earthenware lamp where light shines through the cracks; might be a cheap container holding the spoils from a military campaign. Who knows? The significant point is the contrast between the relatively insignificant container and magnificent treasure within. The purpose: to emphasize the divine origin of the power.
v8-9 Series of greek word plays: cf. ice cream van slogan "Often licked, never beaten." Or "Hemmed in but not hamstrung."
Quote: Betsie Ten Boom in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp: "We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still"
v10-12 Union with Christ. A church is a community centred around Christ. A christian is a person united with Christ. We willingly identify with and carry the death of Jesus in our bodies in order that the life might show as well. Particular identification with Jesus on earth emphasised by the repeated use of his name.
We ought to be suspicious of any model of christianity which does not display this weakness.
v13 It is worth preaching the gospel. cf Psalm 116, also written by someone who had apparently had a near death experience. The hardship and suffering makes preaching the gospel seem all the more important. We must continue to preach the gospel as long as we hope in the gospel.
v14 It is heading somewhere. Both our suffering and ministry has direction and purpose - just as Jesus who suffered & was raised. The hope of the resurrection is key.
v15 It is all for God's glory. All these struggles that Paul (and we face) are ok - because God's people benefit and God is glorified.
Ripple effect: God's grace impacts more people ... God's people rejoice in his victories ... God's glory is the eventual goal.
He closed by telling us of Graham Staines - a missionary in Northern India who was in his landrover with his two sons outside their church when they were attacked by a mob of hindu extremists who set the car on fire. All three died. Gladys, his widow, declared to press that gathered that she was deeply upset, but not angry, for Jesus taught us how to love our enemies. It was a message that the press relayed across India.
Seeing the way the gospel has spread in the years since that incident, it seems that the testimony of one middle-aged widow did more for the cause of the gospel of Christ than the millions of dollars worth of slick Christian television.
The meeting closed with the hymn: "When I survey."
The Living Word Bible Convention is back for another year, with Jonathan Lamb as this year's speaker. The morning session was sparsely attended - like my father's hair it was almost all grey and thinly spread.
Paul Moore (of St Wilfrid's, Cowplain), the chairman, introduced the session. We sang "To God be the Glory," accompanied by Adrian on the Piano, and then Mark Seager (Paulsgrove Baptist read the scripture, Jeremiah 1).
Here are my notes:
Jonathan started by talking about a pastor he'd met recently named Josef Bondarenko, who he'd prayed for years earlier. Josef suffered under communist persecution of Christians and spent time labour camps in Siberia. (He also mentions Josef in "Integrity: Leading with God watching", p110). Yet despite substantial persecution, Josef remained passionate about serving God and spreading the gospel - much like Paul, much like Jeremiah. Jeremiah is the 2 Corinthians of the Old Testament - ministry under difficult circumstances.
v1-5 The Lord's Call
v1-3 Jeremiah outlines the prevailing crisis. The background is politically uncertain - balance of world power was shifting as the Assyrian empire began to totter. As v3 points out, it ends in captivity for God's people. Jeremiah mentions 4 of the 6 kings whose reigns intersected his ministry - all died in unusual circumstances. It was a time of moral and spiritual turmoil - a situation which resonates strongly with Britain today.
Josiah is mentioned - a good king whose best efforts were not enough to prevent the decay that had set in.
v4-5 God summons Jeremiah. It's a vital experience that colours his subsequent ministry. Not a romantic experience - it's a summons not an invitation. Magnificent and uplifting, but produces more panic than glee.
3 assurances given: 1. I knew you... I shaped you. "knew" implies more than just awareness - God was committed to using Jeremiah. It's the knowledge of relationship. God has designed Jeremiah for the task he is giving him.
2. I have set you apart, consecrated you. Jeremiah was specially chosen for his mission.
3. I have appointed you. He has been givein a global ministry that reflects God's sovereignty over the whole earth.
The greater the turmoil, the greater the need to hear God's word.
v6-9 The Lord's Response
v6 Call. God's call comes, typically, when it's not expected. Jeremiah assumes that God's made a mistake - Jeremiah doesn't have the requisite facial hair to be a prophet! He wishes for a prolonged period of childhood without carrying the burdens of his people on his shoulders. This sense of weakness/inadequacy is an essential pre-requisite for christian service.
v7-9 God's answer. I send you ... I command you ... I am with you.
v9 I will deliver you. This assurance stays with Jeremiah - and even though severe doubts plague him throughout his ministry, God ultimately proves faithful.
v9 I have put my words in your mouth. A promise of authority - an authority not in Jeremiah himself, but that is derived form the fact that Jeremiah proclaims God's words. (The locus of authority being in the word rather than the person is reassuring - the messenger can be killed, but the words cannot be unspoken). The centre of power - God - remains unchanged.
v10-16 The Lord's Message
v10 Strong message of judgment, combined with a message of hope.
Jeremiah has been described as the life and soul of the funeral.
2 mini visions:
v11-12 the almond branch - one of the first trees to blossom; a sign that spring is on it's way. God is ready, he will deliver on his promises.
v13 cauldron facing away from the north - God's judgment is delayed - but only for a limited period of time.
They may be God's people, but that doesn't mean they have diplomatic immunity.
Jeremiah faithfully relays this message of judgment - with tears and weeping. There is no place for smugness when warning of God's judgment.
v17-19 The Lord's Resources
Jeremiah has a similar message to Paul, who was told "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Jeremiah will be like a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall. He will face opposition. He will experience loneliness. But the attacks on him will ultimately fail.
The guarantee is not that God will stop the fighter, but that he will stand by the fighter. -- Derek Kidner
The defining factor in Jeremiah's "success" will be the faithfulness that is possible when God is present.
If we want to serve, we need to hear the promises God made to Jeremiah - that he will be alongside us in our weakness.
The session closed with the hymn: "I the Lord of sea and sky".
I'll try to write up the sessions as they take place - but in the meantime, I noticed that they have MP3s from last year available on the convention website.
I'm reading through Integrity - Leading with God watching with a local pastor who is graciously making time in his busy schedule to correct, challenge, exhort, rebuke and encourage this arrogant young jerk. It's sobering reading - I've grown up in an ecclesiastical tradition which is high on abstraction and low on application. Integrity is quite the opposite: Jonathan writes with remarkable clarity as he highlights my favourite sins and failures, as well as the ones I hadn't even noticed. And rather than leaving me wallowing in a soup of navel-engrossed self-pity, he is challenging, insightful and hopeful in his application.
I've actually overcome my natural reverence of books and antipathy towards marking them in anyway and every chapter thus far has sentences underlined and notes in the margin. It's that good. And that relevant.A few choice quotes thus far:
- Integrity, then, means a coherence in every area of life. (p19)
- When leaders at any level fail to live with integrity, the fallout is deadly serious. It poisons community, destroys trust, torpedoes a coherent and unified mission and, most seriously of all, betrays the cause of Christ's gospel and dishonours the God whom we serve. But when Christian leaders live their words, keep their promises, serve their community - in short, show us Jesus Christ - then Christian community is built and Christian mission in enhanced. (p20)
- Sincerity, consistency and reliability: failure to demonstrate integrity in these ways is quite possibly the most serious obstacle to any form of Christian ministry and, indeed, in the growth of God's work (p34)
- the greatest motivation to live a life of integrity arises from a sense of gratitude. (p36)
Buy. Read. Apply.