Sunday, 27 June 2010

Visiting London for a conference

I spent most of last week in London, attending the annual EMA gathering. I have attended this event for almost twenty years and find it very beneficial. Three helpful aspects of it that repeat themselves are (1) meeting other ministers that I seldom see anywhere else; (2) listening to sermons and addresses geared towards aspects of ministerial life today; and (3) being able to spend time each evening applying what I have heard to my own situation and trying to come up with a preaching programme for the next few months.

The set of addresses that helped me most were the morning studies on the life of Samson by Rupert Bentley Taylor. Not only did he show how Samson was a man of faith selected by God to lead his people, but he also opened up lots of ideas in my mind for me to pursue as possible preaching subjects. So I hope that my preaching in the months ahead will be changed.

In addition, I am still thinking about one of John Piper's addresses in which he considered the role of the Holy Spirit in helping his people pray about issues concerning which they have no information (in Romans 8: 26-27, the Spirit intercedes for them according to his knowledge of the secret will of God, and this intercession reveals itself in their groanings). I found Piper's explanation of the Spirit's intercession compelling. Until I heard that address, I would have said that, in my prayer life, I worry more over the things about which I have no information than I do over the items about which I have some or ample information. It seems to me, now, that my prayers for people and issues about which I have no information are well taken care of, and that I should regard such groanings as not merely an expression of perplexity but also as a divine provison of effective prayer. The fact is, I am in the dark regarding most of what is going on around me and within me (story of my life, I have to say), so it is liberating to discover that the Spirit uses his perfect knowledge to more than make up for my weaknesses. So I hope that my praying will have been changed.

I appreciated all the talks I heard. But the issue remains: as as consequence of attending another conference, will I confer better to others about God and will I confer better to God about others? Time will tell.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Lord's Supper

This evening we as a congregation will have a service that includes the Lord’s Supper. The Supper is a family meal in the sense that those who will take part in it profess to belong to the family of God. There are many ways of looking at the Lord’s Supper. We can view it as an Eucharist or Thanksgiving; we can see it as a Communion in which we interact with Jesus and he with us; we can regard it as a Memorial in which we remember what Jesus did for us; or we can consider it as a Covenant occasion in which we renew our dedication to the Lord – of course, we can use all these ways, even simultaneously.

One of the most helpful ways of participation that I have found was told to me many years ago and no doubt most of you will be familiar with the method as well. The individual who informed me of it told me to take five looks when at the Lord’s Table.

First, he told me to look back and recall what Jesus did when he was here in this world. Looking back, we can think of his teachings, his miracles, his disciples, but above all his death and resurrection. He did not die as a helpless victim of stronger powers. Instead he was the sinbearer who performed the amazing achievement of paying the penalty for our sins.

Second, he told me to look up to where Jesus currently is, seated on the throne of God. The Saviour has been exalted higher than we can imagine, than human words can describe. Although he is so high, yet he will remember us as we sit at his Table. We are in his heart and on his mind as he governs all things.

Third, he told me to look ahead to the time when Jesus will return. That day will be a marvellous one because it will be the occasion of the resurrection of the dead, of the reunion of believers who have died, and of the commencement of the new heavens and new earth. Faith is like a telescope that brings those future events closer to our spiritual vision.

Fourth, he told me to look around at the others who are also sitting at the Table. The Lord’s Supper should not be taken with our eyes closed; instead we should observe who is sitting beside us. Perhaps in heaven we will yet speak about this occasion.

Fifth, he told me to look within in order to find a personal reason for gratitude to Jesus. A short look there will reveal how sinful I am, and therefore give a reason for grateful participation in the Supper. But he told me to spend less time with the fifth look than with the other four.