Tuesday, 29 July 2008

More on Reading...

Huge thanks to Dave K for this. Yesterday I posted about the place of reading in preaching. And as I've thought more about it since then, there are lots of other ways we make access to the Bible dependent on being able to read. Then Dave pointed this out:

Reaching Nonbook People

Once again, it seems the folks at The Crowded House have got there first. And I'm pleased they have, because there stuff is great. If you're at all interested in this, you should give it a read. I think this sentence basically sums up what I was trying to say yesterday, but was probably a bit scared to:
"being word-centred need not equal being book-centred."

The material at The Crowded House is focussed on 'non-book' people, which means people who choose not to read, even though they can. Obviously this is different to being illiterate, but I think a lot of the issues will probably be the same. And although TCH don't try to suggest how many 'non-book' people there are, I'm guessing it's quite common and this will affect a lot of people.

Monday, 28 July 2008

How Important is Reading?

Last Monday I watched a documentary on Channel 4 called Can't Read Can't Write. Basically, the series follows a group of adults who can't read or write. For one reason or another they had never picked up the skill, and had gone through life trying to cope without being able to read or write. I can barely even imagine what that must be like - I wouldn't be typing this for a start. But even simple things like shopping or driving become incredibly difficult. It was pretty emotional stuff. Linda is 46 and can't read, but she's desperate to be able to read Shakespeare. Her frustration was hard to watch. But Teresa nearly moved me to tears when, at 58, she managed to read a book for the first time.

But, in a similar vein to some other recent channel 4 documentaries (involving TV chefs, and Phil and Kirsty talking about some tax or other), there's a politcal campaign behind the programme too. How is it that these people have never been taught to read? How must our education system change to help them?

But it got me thinking about preaching and teaching the Bible. The show revealed a statistic I found quite shocking. Over 5 million people have a lower reading ability than a 12 year old - many of them can't read at all. And I guess that number probably excludes a lot more people who struggle with reading but can pass the tests. Anyway, it's a huge number of people.

So over the past week I've been pondering whether the way I preach and teach would exclude people who don't find reading easy? I always try to point people to the text of the Bible, to rub their faces in it as I preach. But if I was speaking to someone who couldn't read it, how would they do? Would the fact I'm even expecting them to read be a barrier?

Linked to that, but slightly more subtle, do I expect people to follow the text to see where I'm going? On Sunday, I was talking my way through Colossians 1v15-23, and looking at the different statements Paul makes about Christ. But how obvious is it when I jump to the next one if the people listening can't follow it themselves? And is it obvious when I'm quoting and when I'm not if people can't see the words I'm using?

This is tricky if you believe that the Bible is the Word of God. When I preach, it isn't from my own authority, but God's. I want people to see that. It's the word of God written down which is infallible, not the words of the preacher. But it's through words that the gospel is passed along. I like this from Luther:
Because heresies threatened the living apostolic message, it had to be recorded in a book to protect it from falsification. Preaching reverses this process of conservation again, allowing the Scriptures of the past to become the tidings of the present... The Gospel has been committed to lifeless paper; fresh words can transform it into glad tidings again.
The written word is crucial. But how important is reading?

I'm pretty sure most of the students I'll be teaching in the next few years will be able to read - it's sort of a requirement. But I still think this is a serious question, otherwise millions of people might be hindered in hearing the gospel.

Can't Read Can't Write is on again tonight, Channel 4, 9pm.

Famous Last Words...

Yesterday I spoke for the final time (at least for a while) at Ferndale Baptist Church. In the end I spoke on Colossians 1v15-23. I realised that there wasn't really anything else to speak on but the Lord Jesus, so that's what I did. If you want to read my notes, you can look at them here:

Colossians 1v15-23

I'm going to miss having the opportunities to preach at Ferndale. Although I guess I'll be doing a fair bit of speaking anyway (I've had a few invitations already), it's a different kettle of fish altogether speaking to a group of people you know, and even feel some responsibility for. As I spoke yesterday, I was speaking to friends. I knew some of the details of their lives. I knew what they've been taught over recent weeks and months. And I knew there were definitely some people there who weren't Christians, and I knew some of the issues they're dealing with. Now I've preached for the last time here, I've realised again what a great privilige it is to be a herald of the gospel. I think this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones sums it up:
“Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can ever be engaged in, because of all that it holds out for all of us in the present, and because of the glorious endless possibilities in an eternal future”

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Spurgeon IS the man!

Mark Driscoll thinks Spurgeon is "the man." As anyone from Ferndale will know, I agree. MD has declared this week "Spurgeon is the man" week. Shame I only realised on Thursday...

You should have a look at his posts:
Spurgeon is the Man Part 1—Introduction
Spurgeon is the Man Part 2—Spurgeon was a Bible Guy
Update:Spurgeon Prayed, Laughed, Cared, and Evangelized - Part 3

I've learned a lot from Charles (I like to think we'd have been on first-name terms) too. His books "Lectures to my Students" are awesome, and whenever I see a second-hand copy I usually buy it to give away. He's great at pricking the pride and pomposity that preachers can develop. Actually, not so much 'pricking' as 'harpooning.' One of my favourite bits is when he suggested to his church leadership that they should offer a reward to the vandal who smashed some of the church windows because the extra air stopped people nodding off in church. Then he pretty much admits smashing them himself! Brilliant.

He was also a guy who made a stand for the truth. When people weren't staying true to the gospel, he wasn't afraid to say so (it seems like sometimes he went quite far out of his way to have a dig at the pope!). And in 1887 he led his church out of the Baptist Union because of what he saw as a 'downgrade' in their theology, particularly the place they gave to Sripture. I'm always slightly amused when I hear my fellow members of the Baptist Union going on about Spurgeon. He's basically still a Baptist poster-boy, but I'd be interested to know what he'd make of us in the BU if he was around today. If time travel ever gets invented, that's something I'd love to see.

And I love the way he puts things. I often have a rummage for a quote from him when I can't find the words myself. I think this quote might find it's way into my sermon on Sunday...
"Creation is too small a frame in which to hang his likeness. Human thought is too contracted, human speech too feeble, to set him forth to the full. He is inconceivably above our conceptions, inutterably above our utterances."

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

To Timothy...

Tonight at the church Bible study I'm doing an overview of 2 Timothy. I've posted the notes (slightly prematurely, but I doubt anyone will download and read them instead of coming along...) on my website. This is the link:

2 Timothy Overview

It was a bit weird looking at 2 Timothy, and unexpectedly emotional. It was the last of Paul's letters, and he admits he won't be around much longer. So he is desperately urging and encouraging Timothy to hold on to the gospel and to stand firm. There were points where I was close to tears (thankfully Rudi was in the office, so I held them back).

But that's probably because I'm starting to get emotional generally, and I'm starting to feel a bit like Paul. I'll be leaving in just over 2 weeks. This will be the last mid-week Bible study I lead at Ferndale. I'm preparing my final sermon for Sunday. And so, although I don't have any reason to think I might die soon, I think I'm sharing Paul's concern for those he's leaving behind.

It may be an emotional one tonight...

Friday, 11 July 2008

Nick O'demus - the only Irishman in the Bible!

(That's one joke I won't be using on Sunday...)

Over the past couple of evenings I painted this picture for our Sunday morning service. It's supposed to be Nicodemus from John 3. I'm slightly worried, because in painting a middle-eastern gentleman, I think I may have accidentally painted Osama Bin Laden...

Also, the whole conversation Jesus has with Nick is quite complicated, and I have to explain it in family service. Hmm...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The End is Nigh!

It's about 4 weeks until I leave Southend for Reading, where I'll be working for UCCF. And things are starting to get weird. I've been desperately trying to put the idea of finishing out of my mind for ages so my brain doesn't go on holiday. But no I can't really ignore it. So I'm starting to give some thought wrapping things up (both metaphorically and literally - I've got a lot of junk to pack!). In particular, I'm thinking a lot about my final sermon, which I'll be giving on 27th July.

I read this today: "never preach except as a dying man to dying men." It's a bit of a daisy-chain - Adrian Reynold blogging about R. Kent Hughes quoting Richard Baxter. But it jumped out at me when I read it.

As I think about what I'm going to say in my final talk at Ferndale, this is the mindset I've got. In a lot of ways, this is my last sermon. Not ever, but it'll be the last one at Ferndale for a while, and if I come back I'll be a guest, things will be different. And I'm thinking about how to cram everything I want to say to them into half an hour. Without wanting to give too much away to Ferndalers who might be reading, I'll be preaching the gospel. What else is there?

But the Baxter quote has set me thinking... is it right for me to be thinking about this sermon differently? Do I normally worry less about making mistakes or forgetting things because I'll have another chance to put things right? And what if I don't?

I'm sure it will be emotional, and I'm sure it won't be perfect. But I need to preach every other sermon after it as if it's my last chance too!

Monday, 7 July 2008

And finally...

It's taken me about 2 1/2 years, but I've finally finished preaching my way through Ephesians. (In case you were wondering, it took all that time because there were long gaps in between, not because I did it in minute detail!) In fact, it feels a bit strange to have finished it. I had to do the whole of chapter 6 to squeeze it into my last evening sermon, so it's a little bit epic. You can read it as a PDF here:

Ephesians 6

To finish off the sermon, and the book, I found a great quote from C.H. Spurgeon. The whole of Ephesians is soaked in God's grace, and so I think these words from Spurgeon wrap it up well...

“Pause here, my hearer, awhile, and think before this world was made, ere God had settled the deep foundations of the mountains, or poured the seas from the laver of the bottom of his hand, he had chosen his people, and set his heart on them. To them he had given himself, his Son, his heaven, his all. For them did Christ determine to resign his bliss, his home, his life; for them did the Spirit promise all his attributes, that they might be blessed. O grace divine, how glorious thou art, without beginning, without end. How shall I praise thee? Take up the strain ye angels; sing these noble themes, the love of the Father, the love of the Son, the love of the Spirit. “

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

MRTU: John Betjeman on Matlock Bath

I called into Oxfam yesterday, and stumbled on a book of poems by John Betjeman. And bear in mind this is Oxfam in Southend, so a find like that is quite rare!
I've enjoyed stuff by him that I've read, and I've seen before that he's written about some of the places I've lived - Bristol and Clifton and Essex to name but two. But I was delighted to find this poem about Matlock Bath, which is just round the corner from my hometown of Matlock.

I found it really interesting that JB uses so much Biblical imagery when he describes Matlock Bath - if you've ever been there, it's hard not to. I don't mean the pseudo-sea-side bit, but the Heights of Abraham are pretty immense.
But he doesn't marvel and feel inspired by the natural beauty of the rocks and the trees. Instead he feels a sense of doom as he imagines the towering cliffs crashing down and sweeping everything away like a tidal wave. And I think this says something about John Betjeman's outlook on faith, and particularly on non-conformity. He hears the gospel they preach as one of doom and woe. The reference to "Pilgrims of the night" is probably a reference to a hymn, a hymn about death. This life is full of anquish and guilt, which is only lifted by death. And I think that sort of idea colours how he sees Matlock Bath, which as soon as he steps off the train is linked with non-conformity. And so instead of being comforted by the Rock of Ages, cleft for me, instead of feeling loved and cared for by God, he feels only dread.

Matlock Bath

From Matlock Bath's half-timbered station
I see the black dissenting spire
Thin witness of a congregation,
Stone emblem of a Handel choir;
In blest Bethesda's limpid pool
Comes treacling out of Sunday School.

By cool Siloam's shady rill
The sounds are sweet as strawberry jam
I raise mine eyes unto the hill,
The beetling Heights of Abraham;
The branchy trees are white with rime
In Matlock Bath this winter-time,

And from the whiteness, grey uprearing,
Huge cliffs hang sunless ere they fall,
A tossed and stony ocean nearing
The moment to o'erwhelm us all
Eternal Father, strong to save,
How long wilt thou suspend the wave?

How long before the pleasant acres
Of intersecting Lovers' Walks
Are rolled across by limestone breakers,
Whole woodlands snapp'd like cabbage stalks?
O God, our help in ages past,
How long will Speedwell Cavern last?

In this dark dale I hear the thunder
Of houses folding with the shocks,
The Grand Pavilion buckling under
The weight of the Romantic Rocks,
The hardest Blue John ash-trays seem
To melt away in thermal steam.

Deep in their Nonconformist setting
The shivering children wait their doom
The father's whip, the mother's petting
In many a coffee-coloured room;
And attic bedrooms shriek with fright,
For dread of Pilgrims of the Night.

Perhaps it's this that makes me shiver
As I ascend the slippery path
High, high above the sliding river
And terraces of Matlock Bath
A sense of doom, a dread to see
The Rock of Ages cleft for me.