Preachers as Watchmen of the Night

For all the negative diatribe spoken about preaching in our day, we must realise that it isn’t new, nor are preachers to lose heart.

Preachers mustn’t pander to so-called “short attention spans” of our high definition, graphics saturated age. Preachers are not to make the message more palatable by joke telling, or attempting to give a biblical text the wiff of relevancy by surrounding it on all sides about the wondrous examples you are experiencing that make your point so perfectly!

Night-Watchman

Not a bit of it.  Preachers are the messengers.  Messengers of God.  Angels.  Prophets.  Watchmen (or women – I don’t buy Complimentarianism).  Jeremiah was commanded to “Tell them what I tell you to tell them…”  Likewise Ezekiel, literally, “Open your mouth and eat what I give you…”  And so Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and others.

They were messengers of the One who himself is the Message, the Word.  Jesus doesn’t bring the message, because He is the Message, in a way that everyone else isn’t:  We preach Christ and Him crucified.  We preach the whole counsel of God.  The whole Bible for the whole person in the whole world the whole time!

We do not select, pick and choose, cut and paste, add to or ignore.  We don’t embellish with cute stories, nice pictures, snazzy powerpoint (God deliver us from this banality)!  We preach with utmost courage because all of it is God’s Word and all the world is God’s.

Preachers are thus Watchmen.  A watchman does not fall asleep when everyone else is asleep.  A watchman stays awake, alert to danger, alert to mischief.  Alert to everything that may or may not be going on.  And when danger comes, and it will for the devil does indeed prowl around like a roaring lion – looking for people to devour – it is the duty of the watchman to raise the alarm, to fend off the danger, to proclaim a Redeemer who has conquered the lion.

The watchman must eat the book, even when people do not even think the watchman is necessary.  Even if they think they can do it without the watchman, lulled into a false sense of security, they do not eat the book, the nibble the edges, the palatable bits, the familiar bits, ignoring the wideness and vastness of God’s Word, whilst consuming the familiar, embellished as it is with the odd joke and tired story.

The Bible has enough material of its own for us to use, without our trivial attempts to make it palatable.  It is already relevant; it is already palatable.  We need to eat it and simply be faithful proclaimers among God’s people, faithfully declaring the Word of the Lord in all its beauty and glory and majesty, in all praise and inexpressible joy, with tears and hearts open to a God who heals and saves.

So, watchmen, stay awake.  Stay alert.  Be faithful.  Preach the whole word.  It is literally a matter of life and death.

Anonymous

Anonymous-Rain-l

Walter Lüthi said this about the cowardly nature of anonymity:

‘God has a name. The misery on this earth is nameless, the evil among men is nameless, for the powers of darkness love to be without a name. Nameless, anonymous letters, letters without signatures are usually vulgar. But God is no writer of anonymous letters; God puts His name to everything that He does, effects, and says; God has no need to fear the light of day.

The Devil loves anonymity, but God has a name. He did not get this name by chance; in fact He did not receive it at all: He gave it to Himself because He wants to have a name. For him, name does not mean noise and smoke that cloud the splendour of Heaven;

His name is His sign, the sign that shows that He is the true God; His name is His signature, so to speak, His monogram, His seal, His stamp (His trademark, if you will!) – whatever bears His stamp is God’s. God would certainly have had the power to be nameless; but because He loves clarity and hates obscurity He preferred not to be a nameless God’.

 

I hope this does not appear to contradict the reason for my own blogging anonymity.  I for one see mine as a way to write freely and honestly, even though there are a few who know who I am (I shall not be precious about it).  This post is aimed at the cowards who hide behind a self-righteous critique of others probably because they could not sustain their argument beyond the first round of responses.  To them this post is (sarcastically) dedicated.  Charles Spurgeon was once handed a note as he ascended the pulpit.  On it, was simply written “Fool.”  To which Charles responded by beginning his sermon, “Normally I get letters without names.  Today, I have received a letter with only the name:  Fool.

God’s Silence

Helmut Thielicke said of the Cross of Jesus Christ,

“There the night of darkness dispatched its last troops against God’s Son; the demons were released and the ugliest instincts since Adam unchained. But God said nothing about it. Only a dying man cried aloud in that silence and asked why – yes, why – God had forsaken him.

God still remained silent, when even dumb nature began to speak by a shuddering gesture and the sun withdrew its light. The constellations cried out but God was silent. Yet it is precisely at this point that the great secret of that silence conceals itself. This very hour, when God gave no word, no syllable of an answer, was the great turning point of world history.

CrossinEarth

This was the hour when the veil of the temple tore and God’s heart was opened to us with all his surprises. By being silent God was suffering too; by being silent he entered with us into the brotherhood of death and the deep valley, knowing all about it and … doing his loving work behind the dark curtains. The silence of that night on Golgotha is the basis for our life.

What would we be without the cross? What would we be without the knowledge that God sends his Son to us in the silent abysses and dark valleys, that he becomes our companion in death – while his ‘higher thoughts’ are already pressing on mightily toward Easter…. There is no silence of indifference in God (nor in Jesus); there are only those higher thoughts – and not for one minute a silent fate. The woman who comes to Jesus knows that. Therefore she waits out the silence and never draws back her outstretched hands.”

Why Do You Read the Bible?

“We can open our Bibles for all sorts of odd reasons—as a religious duty, an attempt to earn God’s favor, or thinking that it serves as a moral self-help guide, a manual of handy tips for effective religious lives.

That idea is actually one main reason so many feel discouraged in their Bible-reading. Hoping to find quick lessons for how they should spend today, people find instead a genealogy, or a list of various sacrifices. And how could page after page of histories, descriptions of the temple, instructions to priests, affect how I rest, work and pray today?

delighting

But when you see that Christ is the subject of all the Scriptures, that he is the Word, the Lord, the Son who reveals his Father, the promised Hope, the true Temple, the true Sacrifice, the great High Priest, the ultimate King, then you can read, not so much asking, ‘What does this mean for me, right now?’ but ‘What do I learn here of Christ?’

Knowing that the Bible is about him and not me means that, instead of reading the Bible obsessing about me, I can gaze on him. And as through the pages you get caught up in the wonder of his story, you find your heart strangely pounding for him in a way you never would have if you had treated the Bible as a book about you.  It is vital for a church to guard against assuming the gospel.”

 

Michael Reeves, ‘Delighting in the Trinity’

I Love the Bible

cadbury dairy milk marvellous mix-ups with maynards jelliesI love the Bible and I love preaching from the Bible.  Today alone I tried to prepare a sermon for Sunday.  I tried scattered prayer and random reading of various books.  I even ate a bag of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk ‘Marvellous Mix-Ups’ with Maynards (which were freakin delicious by the way), in the hope of some sugar-fuelled divine inspiration.

Until.

Until I opened my Bible and actually began reading the Word of God for itself.

P. T. Forsyth writes that the greatest reason why the preacher must return continually to the Bible is that the Bible is the greatest sermon in the world.

And I agree.  So much value does he place on preaching that he writes that with preaching, “Christianity stands or falls.”  But he adds what I think is a treasure beyond words for the one who preaches, since preaching “is the Gospel prolonging and declaring itself.”  Yes!  With preaching the revealed Word of God, Christianity stands or falls.

The Bible is not nationalist.  Although God’s purposes are worked out through that Old Testament rabble known as “Israel”, God is not a Semite, nor is He a Zionist, nor is he a nationalist – contrary to popular belief – which would be a fair point among some observers of the plight of some parts of Western Evangelicalism.  And for that, a fair critique could be levelled.

But as I said, the Bible is not nationalist, nor is it a history of Israel, but it is a history of redemption.  It is not the history of an idea, but of a long divine act.  Its unity is a dramatic unity of action, rather than an aesthetic unity of structure.  It is a living evolving unity, in a great historic crescendo.

It does not exist like a library in detached departments.  It has an organic and waxing continuity.  It is after all a book.  It is a library, but it is still more a canon.  You may regard it from some points as the crown of literature, for it contains both the question and the answer on which all great literature turns.

It is the book, as Christ is the Person, where the seeking God meets and saves the seeking man.

Bible,open

(with help from P. T. Forsyth and his ‘Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind’)

Affable Bustle

“Churches that seem to live in an atmosphere of affable bustle, where all is heart and nothing is soul, where men decay and worship dies.  There is an activity which is an index of more vigour than faith, more haste than speed, more work than power.

It is sometimes more inspired by the business passion of efficiency than the Christian passion of fidelity or adoration.  Its aim is to make the concern go rather than to compass the Righteousness of God.  We want to advance faster than faith can, faster than is compatible with the moral genius of the Cross, and the law of its permanent progress.

We occupy more than we can hold.  If we take in new ground we have to resort to such devices to accomplish it that the tone of religion suffers and the love or care for Christian truth.  And the preacher, as he is often the chief of sinners in this respect, is also the chief of sufferers.  And so we may lose more in spiritual quality than we gain in Church extension.

In God’s name we may thwart God’s will.  Faith, ceasing to be communion, becomes mere occupation, and the Church a scene of beneficent bustle, from which the Spirit flees.  Religious progress outruns moral, and thus it ceases to be spiritual in the Christian sense, in any but a vague pious sense.”

P. T. Forsyth, The Preaching of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ, p.119

Letting go – Missionally speaking

letting goI am a father. My children are the first of both my parent’s family lines to grow up in a Christian home. As a young man of twenty one, I had a lot of catching up to do regarding the Christian faith, when God actually invaded my personal space and started asking some pretty searching questions of me. I never went to Sunday school as a youth, and as far as God was concerned, I couldn’t have given a hoot to whatever ‘religious people’ said and claimed. I don’t even think I went into a church. My life and family were God-less.  We weren’t barbaric savages eating the flesh of our neighbours (not that I remember anyway), but we were, when the two-edged sword is speaking it’s truth – God-less.

Strangely, I am not aware that I even came across what I now know as re-formed, redeemed, renewed, born-again, evangelical, bible believing, Spirit-filled, rescued sinners turned saints – i.e. a Christian, as we say in the West, or a Nazarene, as Christians call themselves in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

I couldn’t have given a hoot to something I didn’t understand or think about in people I never met (I was thouroughly secularised). Until God met me. That’s the intorduction to my indifferent-atheist-secularist-1980’s materialist-turned follower of Jesus (and those details can wait for another time) life.  But God met me.

Three years previously, as a goofy teenager, I met this gorgeous woman, one of those God-botherers, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her (I still can’t). This is how it panned out (minimalism at it’s best): I met my (future) wife; God met me; we met our children. Our children thus grew up in a home with both parents madly in love with each other and God!

I am so proud of my kids (er, adults now)! My daughter, beautiful – clever – deep (like her mum), is my jewel. She could do anything she wants in this world. If she wanted to be an engineer, boom, done. If she wanted to be a writer, she could. And she may yet well be. But she has chosen to keep her heart and her ears and her mind and her life open to whatever God has for her. She is currently exploring missionary possibilities on the other side of the world. God bless the other side of the world!

The cost of missions; the cost of following Jesus does not just effect the individual concerned, it affects the whole family. I am certain my daughter could command a high standard of living in whatever she sets her mind to. She could earn high. She could do what she wants, when she wants, how she wants.

But she has chosen another way, the Way – of Jesus. Surrendering her God-given skills and ability unto the service of Jesus Christ is surely my highest honour as a father and my daughters greatest decision. There is a lot of uncertainty, in income, in security, in future decisions. But my attitude is simple: that’s what the majority world have to live with anyway. Us Westerners are so soppy and soft sometimes. We want secular/materialist/godless ‘securities’ (pension, salary, safety, etc) for our children, we often desire them as parents to make ourselves feel more secure in our God-less Chrisianised faith.

In fact, what we often truly want (our secret desires) for our children, is a successful secular/materialist life with a veneer of respectable Christianity (i.e. the Western Church – i.e. we want them saved but we don’t want their salvation to cost too much to our safe and mediocre lives). We want for our children a suburban piety – a Christianity without heart, a Jesus without the Cross and mission without the cost. We play with Jesus, and frankly, he can keep his Cross. When we talk about missions, what we really mean is someone else, somewhere else! We don’t mean me, we don’t mean here and we don’t mean now! But Jesus does!

And yet, it is not easy to let my daughter go into a ‘missional life’ (all life is missional I know), but it just isn’t easy to let go. I know I have to let God be God and, frankly, grow up in my faith. I have to see that when God calls, He calls. When He speaks, we’d better listen. When He sends, we’d better let go.

Good bye my darling daughter. I’ll see you soon. I am so proud of you for daring to believe God at His most wonderful Word. I couldn’t ask for more, even though my humanity has tried to make me ask for less.

I love you
Dad xxx