Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Leading the Family pt.3

 "They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith
with a clear conscience."
1 Timothy 3.9

When it comes to the role of the deacon, there is one verse which speaks of the partnership in the gospel between the overseer/elder and the deacon and that is v.9

The Deacon's responsibility

There is no suggestion that deacons have a teaching function, though there is nothing to say that they couldn't. What is clear, though, is that teaching is not core to being a deacon. You can see why. Distributing funds to widows, doesn't require teaching, organising the team to set up the room for worship doesn't require teaching, providing food for the meal doesn't require teaching.

However, Paul says that they should keep hold of the deep truths of the faith - that that is a key part of their responsibility. This is so that this group of leaders will provide a doctrinal centre of mass for the people of God - a ballast of truth - a gospel inertia. Inertia is normally seen as a bad thing in our society - change is always good. In certain areas of the church's life, that is true, but not when it comes to doctrine. It's why we still say the ancient creeds in our church.

Spiritual Ballast

The other day I was watching Deepwater Horizon. It's a good film, although it is clearly a sign of my age that I wish that they would enunciate their words more clearly! The film is centred around a floating oil rig. It is not fixed to the ocean bed, but keeps in position over the same spot by the use of propellers under the surface of the water. This means that when waves hit the rig, or the wind blows, the rig holds its position.

Deacons are like those propellers - they hold onto the teaching from godly overseers, so that the church as a whole keeps its position over the gospel. They will also as a result recognise false teachers/overseers and resist being moved by them (cf. 1 Tim 1.19-20).

They, "will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4.14-15)

So if you are a deacon, make your number one priority going deeper and more securely into the gospel. And do this not only because you may need to teach it one day, but because you have a vital role as spiritual ballast for the family of God.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Leading the Family pt.2

"able to teach"1 Timothy 3.2

Yesterday I wrote about the need for the leader to reflect the nature of the church. As the church is like a family, so its leadership needs to be father-like in style. There is though a key skill which Paul highlights for the leader:

The Overseer's tool - v.2

The one skill Paul mentions, apart from caring/protecting the family of God, is teaching. The Church's nature is not just that we are a family, we are a family wholly shaped by the truth seen in Jesus. That is why teaching is so vital.

We don't primarily appoint leaders who are great strategists, administrators or visionaries (unless we mean by visionary someone whose vision is filled by Jesus). Such skills will lead to an organisation growing, but they are not the core skill of the overseer/elder. The key skill is faithful, gospel infused and focused, biblical teaching.

If this is lost we can become an incredibly successful heresy.

So, if, as a church leader, I spend so much time on strategy etc. that I neglect teaching - I have got it wrong. There are times when circumstances have squeezed my preaching preparation time, and yet God has blessed the sermons, but I must remember that that is his grace in my weakness, not licence for de-prioritising my efforts in teaching. 

It also means that as church members, we must seek to protect the teaching ministry of our leaders. Don't wish for a more visionary, strategic leader, but for a great teacher.

Part 3 tomorrow...

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Leading the family

"If anyone does not know how to manage his own family,
how can he take care of God’s church?"
1 Timothy 3.5

I never have enough time! Last Sunday evening I ran out of time in my sermon and so I promised to blog the last page. We were looking at the Person Specification for a church leader, whether an overseer/elder or a deacon. Here are the final three brief points we learn from 1 Timothy 3.1-13:

The Church's nature

Most of Paul's time in 1 Timothy 3 is focused on the character of the leader and not the skills. However, he does also speak of skills - one of which is the ability to lead. Here though he makes an interesting parallel between leading the church and leading the family. 

In doing so, we learn something important about the nature of the Church. It is more like a family than an organisation. That is because it is fundamentally relational. The Greek words behind manage and care are words that speak of caring and protecting. 

As such, a leader in Christ's church will be someone who reflects that approach to leadership. Success leading an organisation will not automatically mean success in leading God's people. I remember standing next to one of my vicars at his leaving do and it came to me that no-one in the room quite understood what it was like for him. On one day he was leaving his job, his home, but most of all his family.

It is also an encouragement to the smaller church. There are great blessing in the big church and the Lord uses them (and ministers like me dream of how easy it must be to lead a big church - never having experienced it of course!) However, the blessing of the smaller church is that being a family comes more naturally.

I will cover the next point tomorrow...

(There's a cliffhanger - it's like an episode of Designated Survivor!)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Uncomfortable Blessings

"The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act;
therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God."
2 Samuel 6.7

I preached on this passage last Sunday. For a long, long time I avoided it because of the verse above. It is one of the famous "difficult verses" in the Bible. And it is hard to preach on, if only because there is the danger that you spend so long on dealing with the 'problem' of the verse that you don't get a chance to preach the message of the chapter. 

Contrary to my expectations, though, I have come to love this passage and it was a real privilege to preach on it. It did strike me, during the preparation, that preaching and studying the difficult passages of Scripture is not only important but rewarding for the following reasons:
  • It is good for our spiritual health. I am struck by the fact that the first sermon of Jesus recorded by Matthew, has, at it's heart, the word repent. It is a reminder that God's diagnosis of us is that we are sinners that need turning around. Bearing that in mind, we should not only expect God's word to be uncomfortable reading, but start to look to those uncomfortable moments as opportunities for blessing. That has certainly been my experience.
  • It strengthens the confidence of God's people: As a preacher I am very protective of those to whom I preach - probably too protective. There is something within me that shies away from being too challenging. Perhaps there is a good motivation hidden there - I don't want to break a bruised reed. Yet, in doing so I am in danger of harming those I love. Most Christian, I suspect, battle an insecurity about God's word, because of these passages. When as a preacher I avoid them, I am in danger of feeding that insecurity. By bringing them out into the light - the glory of God's word shines through in unexpected ways and the shadow of insecurity is pierced by the brightness of God's truth.
  • It gives us a better glimpse of God: Finally, understanding these passages involves taking off our crown, getting down from our throne and falling on our knees. They lead to a recognition, if we come to them in the spirit of Isaiah 66.2b, that God is greater, more holy and more good than we ever imagined.
These are the ones I look on with favour:
Those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Ancient and Modern

"To show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant,
 the oath he swore to our father Abraham"
Luke 1.72-73

Our society has a strong emphasis on being new. New is always better. Whereas in almost every other culture, what the elders think has held most sway, now it is what the youth think. So if there is ever a political decision where the split falls along age lines, it is the youth's position which is seen as the better one.

This elevation of the 'new' is a consequence of what historians call the Whig interpretation of history. Emerging in the 18th and 19th centuries this is the idea that society is on an upward trajectory towards freedom, liberty and truth. The outcome though, has been an arrogance towards the past and towards those who appeal to the past. For the church this has led to a view that the church must change or die. It must, in the words of a former Prime Minister, "Get with the programme." Some of this is helpful when it deals with the format of our services and mission, but it is dangerous when applied to our faith and worship.

Deep down there are problems with the 'new is better' view. The first is historical: there is no evidence that the world is a better place than it was. There is more democracy, but there is still war and there is growing global inequality. The second is conceptual: if new is always better, then what I believe now must be wrong, because one day it will become old! When someone excitedly tells me that they used to think as I did, but now they've realised that it was wrong - they do so with zeal and passion. But there is always the possibility in my mind that if they were wrong once, might they not be wrong now?!

Into this unstable and insubstantial worship of the new, the ancient word of God to the people of God is a wonderful refuge and rock. We can rejoice in the ancient character of God's salvation plan unfolding to his undeserving people. When we read the creeds, we don't need to be afraid that they are outdated, but we can rejoice that the truth of the gospel has stood the test of time. Even more, when we read Zechariah's words we can rejoice that God's word has spanned many generations , hundreds of cultures and thousands of miles and yet tells one story of a saviour king who will be born to save his people.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Praying the Armour of God

Mighty Lord,

As I go into battle today, help me to stand strong in your power and not in my own skill, strength or ability. I go into battle with your breastplate of righteousness. I thank you that though I was once your enemy, I am now your precious child. I thank you that whatever happens to me today, I can call on you as my perfect, loving heavenly Father. I go into battle with your belt of truth. The truth of the gospel that told me that I was a rebel against you, but also showed me the Lord Jesus – my salvation. I thank you that that truth is secure and bound fast, it will not slip or change. I go into battle with shoes of gospel readiness. I thank you that your gospel, is not a side show, or irrelevant to our modern world. I thank you that it speaks to my greatest need and the greatest need of everyone I meet today. I go into battle with your shield of faith. I thank you that I can totally trust you, that you are my rock, my refuge and my salvation. I thank you that because I am your child, you will never abandon me. I go into battle with your helmet of salvation. I thank you that whatever I have done and whatever I do, the sacrifice of Jesus has paid for every one of my sins and so I am safe. I thank you that nothing can separate me from your love in Christ Jesus and that the Devil will never finally win. I thank you that on the last day, I will stand. I go into battle with your sword firmly in my hands. I thank you for the Bible. I thank you that I first learned about Jesus because of it and I know Him more and more through it. May I never lose my grip on it, or exchange it for something else. Though at times I find it heavy in my hand or its blade seems dangerous to me, may I know that those very things are what give it power. May your Spirit use it in my hands to do your work.

At the end of today Lord, in your strength, I pray that I may stand on the battlefield – without being frightened in any way by the shouts and hollers of the enemy.


For the sermon on the Armour of God click here

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Happy Melancholic

"Blessed are those who mourn"
Matthew 5.4

As I thought about the music I like, I realised that there is something mournful and melancholic about it (obviously my playlist is great for a party!) It came as quite a shock. It was also quite unsettling - surely this isn't appropriate for a Christian, surely it is a bad witness. Won't others look at me and say, "Well if that is what being a Christian leads to, why would I bother!"

Then I realised that, even though I like melancholic music, it leaves me feeling stirred, hopeful and even happy. So what is happening to me?!?!

As I prepared for a sermon a couple of weeks ago, I found the answer in the Matthew 5. Here it describes the happy person (because that is what blessed means). More than that it is the happy Christian (the ones who have the kingdom because they follow the king). But in the first four cases they are a surprising bunch to be happy: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek and those who are hungry and thirsty. This is very different from the normal idea of what makes people happy. Our culture would probably rewrite them: 

  • Happy are those with high self-esteem
  • Happy are those who are well
  • Happy are the successful
  • Happy are those who are happy with themselves.
Why does Jesus think so differently? It is because the happiness he looks to is focused on the future and not the present. In every one of his statements, he looks forward to what is to come - the future that is so wonderful that it transforms this veil of tears. This is why the mourning or melancholia of these verses is more like yearning than anything else. Yearning is not grief at what I once had but no longer have, instead it is grief at what I do not yet have, but one day will. It is still painful, but it is also hopeful, excited and, yes, happy at the prospect.

That is what the melancholic has to offer the church - the sense that we will not settle for this world, because it is not our home. They don't need to start being happy in the present circumstances of things to be a faithful Christian, instead they are on the cusp of finding true eternal happiness in the hope of what is held in store for us on the day Jesus returns.

As such one of my favourite songs is "In exile" by Thrice. Here is a link: In exile. In fact one of the reasons I like the band is that they have a strong melancholic feel (thanks to my boys for introducing me to the band). You could also try: In the darkness

If you want to listen to the sermon you can go here: The happy melancholic