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How to listen to a sermon
“With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.”

The Bible and Birth Control
Tim Challies once more “into the breach.”

Six tips on Facebook parenting
Fact #1: Parenting experts agree that a child who feels emotionally and intellectually connected to her parents is likely to make better decisions during puberty and adulthood.
Fact #2: 90% of teens with a social networking account have one on Facebook, and 7.5 million kids under 13are using Facebook to connect and share experiences with friends and family.
Conclusion: Embrace the platform (or you can take a gun to the laptop).

Six new gadgets to help people with disabilities

Metronomes going in and out of sync
This is weirdly entrancing.


Can you preach the Gospel from the law?

I’ve been slowly blogging my way through Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching (here and here) and now reach Christopher Wright’s chapter on “Preaching from the law.” Given the author, I was expecting this chapter to be excellent, but it’s actually outstanding – probably the best chapter in the book. Here’s a summary of the ten most important points, largely in Wright’s own words:

1. On the basis of 2 Timothy 3:15-16, write above every OT chapter, including legal chapters, “This Scripture is inspired by God and is useful…” [47].

2. “Before we preach law to people, we need to make sure they know the God who stands behind it and the story that goes before it. It is the God of grace and the story of grace” [48].
This is perhaps the most important sentence in the chapter (if not in the book), and if fully grasped would transform most people’s view of the law in particular and of the Old Testament in general.

3. “The law was given to people whom God had already redeemed” [48].
“Grace comes before the law. There are eighteen chapters of salvation before we get to Sinai and the Ten Commandments…I stress this because the idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the OT salvation was by obeying the law, whereas in the NT it is by grace, is a terrible distortion of Scripture” [48].

4. “Obedience is the only right response to having been saved, and the way to enjoy the fruits of redemption, not to earn them” [49].
Always preach OT law on the foundation of God’s saving grace. Anything else will lead people to legalism, or to despair, or to pride [49].

5. By shaping Israel in the image of God, the law had a missional purpose [51].
“The law had the function of shaping Israel to be that representative people, making the character and requirements of God known to the nations. That is a missional function…The purpose of the law was to make Israel visibly different, in such a way that would draw interest and comment, and essentially bear witness to the God they worshipped” (Ex. 19:6; Dt. 4:6-8)” [51].

“We should preach OT law in such a way as to remind Christians not only of the grace of God to which they must respond, but also of their mission responsibility: to live distinctively as God’s people among the nations” [52].

“Imitation of God is a strong theme in OT law, but it does not stop there. It is the same basic principle that undergirds the teaching of Jesus about our behavior. We are to model what we do on what we know God is and does (Matt. 5:45-48; Lk. 6:27-36)” [54].

6. The law hangs like a hammock between the two poles of God’s past and present grace [52].
“The law is suspended like a hammock between two poles: the past grace of God’s historical redemption, and the future grace of God’s missional promise. Between these two poles Israel, and ourselves, are called to live in the present as those who know where we have come from and where we are going. The law in other words, makes sense within the whole story of redemption, past and future” [52].

7. Preach the law in a God-centered not man-centered way.
“Our preaching of OT law should not merely be moralistic – focusing on the minutiae of behavior and burdening people, as the Pharisees did. Rather we preach the law in such a way as to point to the God who stands behind it, asking what it reveals of his character, values and priorities. That seems to have been the thrust of Christ’s preaching too” [54].

8. The law was given for human benefit (Mk. 2:27; Dt. 4:40), as the Psalmists certainly appreciated (Ps. 19:7, 10; 119:45, 47) [55].
“The least one can say about people who express such enthusiastic sentiments for the law is that they were certainly not groveling along under a heavy burden of legalism. They were not anxiously striving to earn their way into salvation and a relationship with God through punctilious law-keeping. They were not puffed up with the claims of self-righteousness or exhausted with the efforts of works-righteousness. They did not, in short, fit into any of the caricatures which have been inflicted upon OT law by those who, misunderstanding Paul’s arguments with opponents who had distorted the law, attribute to the law itself the very distortions from which Paul was seeking to exonerate it” [55].

“Jesus became angry when the law was turned into a burden, instead of a benefit to the needy” [57]

“There is plenty material in the law that shows the heart of God for the needs of human beings, especially the vulnerable, those who are socially, economically, ethnically or sexually disadvantaged in our fallen world” [57].

9. “Old Testament law anticipates failure, judgment, and future grace” [57] “We should not imagine that the failure of OT Israel to keep God’s law somehow surprised God so much that he was forced to come up with plan B…Deuteronomy 29-32 make clear that the fault is not in the law itself, but in us” [58].

10. The Old Testament preaches the Gospel [58] In this next paragraph, I believe Wright is using “law” in the wider sense of the whole Pentateuch, or at least the Pentateuch’s exposition and application of the law.

As Deuteronomy 30 contains a powerful evangelistic appeal to return to God…”we can preach OT law, not to drive people only to despair at their failure but to lead them from the realization of failure back to the love and promises of God – as contained in the law itself. Failure is a fact. Failure is foreseen. But failure can be forgiven through the grace of God. The law itself expresses all three great Gospel truths and can be preached accordingly” [58].

Conclusion
Before giving an example sermon, Wright closes with a couple of priceless pages on how to move from OT law to a message for today, and concludes:

As I work towards a preachable sermon from the legal text with such questions in mind, I keep in mind also the above core principles: God’s grace as the starting point; the need for God’s people to live for the sake of God’s mission; the paradigmatic function of Israel’s law for future generations; what the text teaches about the character of God and the demands of human well-being; the realities of sin and failure and the need to preach all God’s Word with the profound sense of preacher and audience alike being sinners in need of forgiving grace [60].


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Book Recommendation: The Broken Hearted Evangelist
Brian Croft says of this book: “Every pastor and Christian for that matter, needs to put down their ’10 easy steps on how to do evangelism’ book, pick up Jeremy’s book, and simply pray for a broken heart.”

Here’s my own endorsement of the book: “I’ll be adding Jeremy’s book to my ‘once-a-year’ pile, as I need to regularly hear his warm-hearted and heart-warming plea for broken-hearted evangelism – and act upon it.”

Balanced ministry preparation
“You take care of the depth of your ministry and God will take care of the breadth of your ministry.”

Church-planting for dummies
Seems very wise to me.

Is Social Media actually making us less connected?
In a recent TED talk, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argued that “technology is taking us places we don’t want to go.”

Who will you thank in heaven?
“Someone from India or North Korea may come up to us and thank us that they are in heaven because we prayed God would save people in their country. Someone from the Philippines may thank us for praying for the advance of the gospel there, because God answered and sent a preacher to them.”

Your desk job makes you fat, sick and dead
If this infographic doesn’t make you want a stand up desk, then I guess nothing will.

“Courageous” wins San Antonio Christian Film Festival
As Doug Phillips says, this is a rare God-glorifying acceptance speech for a film awards ceremony


Children’s Bible Reading Plan (68)

Sorry for missing last week’s plan. Didn’t realize so many people were using it! I remember I used to put hours of work into producing a monthly congregational newsletter with articles and news. Then one month, due to pressure of work, I decided to give it a break. I was ready for a deafening clamor of “We want our newsletter!” But only one person ever enquired about it! Humbling. Needless to say I didn’t resume it.

But anyway, as far as the Children’s Bible Reading plan is concerned, normal service has been resumed.

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The first 6 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.


Learning to be a power listener

That headline probably didn’t appeal to you that much did it?

Power speaker – yes!

Power listener? Eh, someone else can do that.

Bernie Ferrari (author of Power Listening) lists 6 archetypes of bad listening.

  1. The Opinionater: Three sentences into your address he says, “Look, let me tell how I see it…”
  2. The Grouch: He may not have the right answer but he knows yours is definitely wrong.
  3. The Preambler: More or less gets the answer he wants by the way he introduces his questions.
  4. The Preseverator: (I didn’t understand this one)
  5. The Answer Man: Eager to please, has the answer before anyone even knows what the question is.
  6. The Pretender: Think I know a few pastors like this!

Ferrari (wouldn’t you love a name like that?) gives helpful and entertaining exegesis here. As he says, we probably all fall into all of these archetypes at times given the right (wrong?) circumstances.

Any more you can think of?

But let’s end on a positive note with three presidential examples from Paul Johnson, to inspire us:

George Washington listened all his life because he loved to learn and because he had no overwhelming desire to speak, unlike most of those in public life. One passion a leader should forgo, if possible, is a love affair with his own voice…Washington, happily, liked the sound of his own silence…When I was writing my book George Washington, I failed to come across any occasion when he had deliberately concealed the truth from anyone who had a right to know it.

Calvin Coolidge…was aptly called “Silent Cal.” He listened courteously to all his visitors but would not be drawn out. He said: “Nine-tenths of a President’s callers at the White House want something they ought not to have. If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes.” So Coolidge would remain mute. Slight twitches of his facial muscles spoke for him. He was described as “an eloquent listener.” When he did speak, however, it was the truth.

Considering all he had to do and say, Abraham Lincoln spoke amazingly little. As he put it, “I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.” His Gettysburg Address is a classic instance — there is none better in history — of using as few words as possible (261, to be precise) while conveying a powerful message.


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Glory veiled and unveiled
Here’s an interview with my NT colleague, Dr Gerald Bilkes, about his superb new book on Christ’s parables.

Why expostory preaching is the power for pastoral ministry
Michael Milton gives eight reasons.

How to lose friends and alienate Twitter followers
Five social media mistakes.  #1 particularly bugs me.

Young Pastor, Old Member
How should old members relate to young pastors?

A prayer for (and in) Congress
If you had the opportunity to pray with our political leaders, what would you pray? Here’s what Adam McHugh (author of Introverted Church) prayed in the House of Representatives this week.

Reflections on 10 years of ministry
My Pastor gave a wonderful chapel address which I’d love every pastor to hear. Little slow to get going, but the last 30 mins are priceless.