A Different Perspective on the Decalogue

deutI’m currently in process of studying the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5 as part of my PhD studies – particularly thinking about its social, ethical, and missional function as a sort of ‘bill of rights’ for a newly constituted people about to possess a land. Most of the commentators pick up the idea that the Decalogue is a reflection of God’s character, but it was Chris Wright’s excellent commentary which showed me something I hadn’t seen before.

Wright notes that the Sabbath commandment is linked to the memory of their slavery in Egypt and suggests that to some degree the whole Decalogue reflects a way of life that is the antithesis of their slavery in Egypt. As slaves in Egypt they weren’t permitted to worship YHWH ( command 1); they were surrounded by idols (2); YHWH’s name was blasphemed, at least by Pharaoh (3); as slaves they weren’t given time to rest and remember (4); elders weren’t honoured (5); mass murder (infanticide) was committed (6); slaves were probably abused by masters (7); they didn’t have their own property as slaves (8); they weren’t protected by law (9); they probably had possessions forcibly taken at the whim of cruel masters (10).

The whole system in Egypt ignored the true God and mistreated people. God’s will expressed in the Decalogue is for a contrast society which worships the only true God, and protects people. It’s a way of life starkly different to the one they left in Egypt. Interesting observations from Wright, no?

When Will Jesus Return?

We had an interesting discussion in our small group last week. We were thinking about how we live out lives of witness faithfully on our frontline (Tit 2:9-10), and the urgency of Jesus’ return. Should we be playing a long game with our friends or should we be running through the streets screaming ‘repent’ at everyone. I had an email the next day asking for a bit more explanation. Here’s my answer:

Great question Jim [not real name] – you are on the ball.

There’s a few things to try and say in answering the question so I’ll number my paragraphs to try and preserve some logic.
1. First thing to say is that what we’re talking about has been the subject of intense debate throughout the centuries – the passages are open to interpretation and not always as clear as we’d like – probably deliberately in God’s wisdom to keep us humble.
2. Second, we are told that his coming will be at an hour we do not expect (Matt 24:44); and will be like a thief in the night (2 Pet3:10), which means we cannot know when he’ll come – could be any time – and anybody who predicts it is in disobedience of Scripture.
3. We’re also told that the day is soon (Rev 22:20); drawing near (Heb 10:25); at hand (1 Pet 4:7). Those words were written a couple of millenia ago which tells us something about God’s timescales – soon for us, and soon for God aren’t the same. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day (2 Pet 3:8-9). Again all of this makes us humble with regard to timings, and aware that God is playing a long game.
4. We are told of some things that are to happen before Christ returns: the gospel will go to the nations (Matt 24:14); there will be a significant and powerful deception by the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:1-10); and there may be a large scale conversion of Israel (Rom 11:25-26). Now here’s where it gets difficult. Some of the predictions (of Matt 24 for example) may be referring to events surrounding the fall of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70; and there are multiple interpretations of the events just listed – they may or may not already have happened depending on how you interpret them. Now you begin to see the difficulty of having certain opinion on these things.
5. Some of the kingdom parables suggest significant growth and expansion over time. Weeds and wheat will grow together (Matt 13:30); the mustard seed must grow into a tree, and the yeast must work through the whole batch (13:32-33); The bridegroom will be delayed, and the master gone to a far off country for a long while (Matt 25:5, 13, 19). Again, all of these things may be adjudged to have already come to fruition, or they may not.
6. We know God is patient not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance and eternal life (2 Pet 3:8-9). That doesn’t mean all will be saved (see 2 Thess 1:7-10), but it perhaps explains why we’re still waiting.
So how do we make sense of all of that. It all really depends on your interpretation of the various passages. What is clear is that we cannot know the time Jesus will return – it could be any time so we must be ready. Yet at the same time it seems to me that the events and kingdom parables haven’t reached fruition yet so there is still work to be done. The ambiguity makes me watchful, the state of the nations means I’ll keep labouring and praying – the harvest is plentiful. And knowing God is sovereign and patient means I don’t need to rush round like a headless chicken peeing people off left, right, and centre. I make the most of every opportunity, whatever that looks like, so that when Jesus returns (if it’s in my lifetime) he’ll find me at my post.
Hope that helps. As I say we’ve wandered into a minefield in the history of Christian interpretation. Let’s make sure to major or the majors and keep living for Christ on our frontlines,
every blessing,
Anything you’d want to add. Most of the above is a combination of Grudem and Bavinck (and for what it’s worth I’m more with Bavinck).

More FOAM less beer

foamI promised earlier in the week that I’d share a little acronym I use when thinking about illustration in preaching. Again, this isn’t mine, but is shamelessly stolen from communication coach and all round good egg Richard Garnett. He gave this little acronym to work with:

  • F – facts and stats
  • O – opinions and quotes
  • A – anecdotes/stories
  • M – metaphors

He suggests (rightly in my view) that these four things tickle different parts of the brain. Facts, stats, and quotes engage our left brain – the analytical and rational part; Stories and metaphors tickle our right brain – the creative emotive bit. In the exercise of persuasion we need to satisfy both sides – we need to think and feel that what we’re being told is true and works. Garnett also suggests trying to alternate them so that you don’t overload on one side at any one time.

Two other comments I’d add when it comes to illustration. First, illustration teaches. We sometimes think that there’s content and then there’s illustration – the beer and the froth. I’m increasingly persuaded that this view is wrong. Illustration does teach – it just gets us at different levels. So don’t be caught out thinking your light on content if you have plenty of illustration – your just hitting people with truth at different angles and in different places. Second, you need more illustration than you think. Stop thinking about the old state the point, explain the point, illustrate the point, apply the point. Why don’t you think about having 3-4 diff ways of illustrating your point. They don’t all have to be 5 minute stories about someone getting their head caved in with a shovel in Vietnam. They can be one-liners piled up, or a quick metaphor, or a quotation. Pile up your illustration, tickle left and right brain, bring it home, seek to persuade. Illustration is your teaching buddy, not just the froth you have to put in to keep ADDs happy.

How to communicate with SUCCESH

madeI read a book a couple of years back by Chip and Dan Heath called Made to Stick looking at why some messages are ‘sticky’ while others aren’t. It’s got loads of wonderfully helpful stuff in it and their acronym (with slight modification) has stuck with me and I still write it down on my sermon planning sheet today. It’s as follows:

  • S – simple. Is your message clear, straightforward, trying to get across one main thing?
  • U – unexpected. Is there a way in which you can get your message under the radar and make it memorable?
  • C – concrete. Is it a set of abstract propositions or a concrete message with clear take-away?
  • C – credible. Does it work? Will it make a difference? Does it relate to real life?
  • E – emotion. Does your message reach the emotions not just the mind?
  • S – story. Stories tend to stick with people longer than abstract ideas and propositions.
  • H – humour. Does your communication connect with people – humour is one good way to do that.

I find this a helpful checklist to go through when I’m preparing to communicate – you might not hit all of them all of the time, but if you miss the lot you’ve probably got a problem. Later in the week I’ll post another helpful (and stolen) acronym for thinking about illustrations.

The Importance of Soft Skills

leaderI’ve almost finished Mike Brent and Fiona Dent’s The Leader’s Guide To Influence: How To Use Soft Skills To Get Hard Results. In essence it’s a book about working relationships – how to understand things like your personality and working style; how to build trust and rapport; emotional intelligence; reframing; influence, and more. The book has lots of useful and practical information, graphs and charts, including worked examples on things like performance reviews and handling conflict. Perhaps the most useful thing for me to think about was the concept of ‘flex’. That is working out what my personality and working style is, tuning in to somebody else’s, and thinking about how I flex or bend toward them to help them. We can’t be something we’re not, but we can adapt to find ways in which we can better relate and communicate to those with different personalities and working styles. So rather than creating clones we can celebrate diversity and use it to our advantage. Overall the book is solid, not spectacular, but I suspect will come down from the shelves relatively regularly in years to come, as I seek to develop some of these ‘soft skills’ to enable better working and working relationships. If you too want to think further about these things this book is worth a read. Any other suggested reading?

Scholar, be charitable!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was speaking yesterday morning about charity in its various forms. Primarily of course we need to recognise that we are all charity cases and require the charity of God to step in and fix our otherwise hopeless situation. The fruit of this is that we begin to exercise charity towards others in all sorts of ways – finance, time, spirit etc. Except it seems to me that there is one sphere of Christendom where the virtue of charity is seldom seen, and that is in the academy. I read a fair amount of what might be termed academic or scholarly work and what increasingly concerns me is the way in which scholars sometimes interact with others work. It’s not uncommon to see critique, interaction, and review which is uncharitable, inaccurate, harsh, and lacking in constructive comment. Part of this, I suspect, is related to a perceived need to say something new, or to show how clever you are by spotting something someone else didn’t, but I can’t help feeling much of it is about selfish ambition and works on the basis of a hermeneutic of suspicion rather than a hermeneutic of charity. Now of course I’m not saying that we’re not allowed to disagree with people or point out ways in which they could improve, but the spirit of scholarly conversation is tangibly less than loving and often feels more like an attempt to display intellectual prowess at another’s expense. Scholar, be charitable! If you love Jesus it is your bounden duty to exercise the same kindness and charity to others that he exercised toward you. He didn’t do it because you’re clever and you earned it – he did it because he loves you (see Tit 3:3-7). So my plea to the academy is to raise the ethical bar of scholarly interaction – for His name’s sake.

Why the FIEC is a good thing

fiecEarlier in the week I spent 24 hours hanging out with some godly and gifted contemporaries who lead churches within the FIEC. The FIEC (for those who don’t know) is a Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. It’s a network of churches that share core gospel convictions, ecclesiology, and a vision for seeing the gospel go out to the nation. Here are some reasons I like what they’re doing and would encourage others to come join the party (mmm…perhaps party is the wrong word!)

  1. They’re all about the local church. It’s the hope of the world. FIEC is about connecting and resourcing local churches to do the stuff.
  2. As a network it’s based around confession not cultural forms. A misconception about FIEC is that it’s about a certain ‘way’ of doing ministry when in fact there is a great variety of contexts and cultures which produce different styles and strategies for reaching out. Unity yes; uniformity no.
  3. They have great directors with big vision. I’m not kissing up (they won’t even read this). I’m genuinely impressed by the character, competence, and conviction of the directors. They know what they’re about and have a good idea of how to go about it. They’re like Hannibal, Face, Murdoch, and BA in cords. Not saying which one’s which.
  4. It’s chock-full of talented and godly guys making a real difference where they are on the ground. Who needs Chandler, Driscoll, and DeYoung when you can have Beynon, Powell, and Allcock? Seriously, there are some incredibly bright and gifted guys within FIEC.
  5. It’s fun – didn’t expect that did you? In addition to gospel hearted passion, there is great camaraderie to be had. Spend half an hour with Steve Levy and your sides will actually properly hurt.

If you want to be part of a network that will equip, resource, and encourage you, and if you want to be part of a movement to reach the nation with the gospel, you should seriously look at what the FIEC are about.