Monday, 11 July 2016


(This originally appeared in the July edition of the Grapevine. The Grapevine is the monthly magazine of Hardwick Baptist Church, Stockton-on-Tees)

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a good amount of time with my family recently.

At the end of May, Nancy and I and the kids went away to Scotland with our extended family and a few friends. Over 30 of us, including 10 under 7s, took over a manor house and converted stables just south of Perth.

I have always loved being part of a big family. My cousins have been like brothers and sisters to me as I’ve grown up and now it’s lovely that the next generation get time to play together as well.

The advantages of being part of such a big family, who get on with one another, massively outweigh the disadvantages, even for those who are less extroverted than me.

The hardest downside is that there are more people to lose.

Recently my Auntie Kath went to be with her Lord and Saviour Jesus. She was 58 and she died of cancer. She is in a better place and that brings me, and the rest of our family, great comfort.

But, the realization that this is only the beginning of the goodbyes we will have to say, is hard fact to face. As one family member said to me at the funeral, “I’m not ready to lose anyone else.”

Our family holiday was bittersweet because that my Auntie would have loved it but she wasn’t there. At the same time as missing her, having so many of us there meant we were able to encourage, care for and support one another well.

It was also a privilege to be able to speak at the Calvary Christian Fellowship weekend away in the middle of June (that’s the church I grew up in).
We spent the weekend thinking about the topic of suffering which was hard but very relevant to many there.

Again, I saw many of my family members there and it was good to be able to do that.

All of this got me thinking; you may not come from a big family or whatever size you family is, you may not get on well with them, maybe there are personality clashes that flare up if you spend too much time together, but, for the Christian, church is a our family.

The Bible is quite clear that church is family (Matt 12:49-50, Eph 2:19, 1 Tim 5:1-2). We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. We are each united to Him and, as such, connected to one another in the most wonderful way.

So, our spiritual family is massive. It means that there are more people to say goodbye to, but each of those goodbyes is shot through with the cure and certain hope that we will meet again.

Not only that, but this massive family is blessing from God. In the New Testament we are constantly being told to _____ one another. (John 13:34, Rom 12:10,16, Col 3:13, Heb 3:13, 1 Pet 1:22.) Whether it’s “forgive”, “love”, “encourage”, the point is that there is an other, we are together. Life is not a lonely slog up a mountain, it’s a corporate race that we run side-by-side with others.

Do you see church as your family? If not, why not? If you do, how can you make sure that you live that out in practice?

We share the most amazing things as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because Jesus died for us, His Father is our Father, His Spirit lives in us (Rom 8:9-11), His righteousness is credited to us (2 Cor 5:21) and so on.

You might not feel like committing to church. Maybe you don’t want to get too close to people. Maybe you don’t want to risk relationships for fear of being let down. Maybe you are scared of sacrifice.

But, believe me, it’s worth it.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Preaching Christ

(This originally appeared in the July edition of the Grapevine. The Grapevine is the monthly magazine of Hardwick Baptist Church, Stockton-on-Tees)

“Sir, we would see Jesus”

This is what the Greeks say to Philip in John 12. I’m not sure where the tradition originated but it’s also what’s written on plaques in many pulpits around the UK.
Every time a preacher enters the pulpit he is reminded of his responsibility, to preach Christ.

Now that might sound obvious to us. Of course a preacher needs to preach Christ to the congregation. Isn’t it simple? Doesn’t it happen everywhere?
The short answer is, no.  

Let’s deal with the preachers first.

If the preacher is to show the congregation Christ, he needs to work hard on the text. Why? Because, whatever passage he is preaching, he needs to take the people to Christ. The Bible is ultimately all about Him.

In some books it is easy to preach Christ, the New Testament all falls into this category. Some chapters of books make this easy too, think about Isaiah 53 or Psalms that are quoted in relation to Jesus in the New Testament, or think about The Passover. But, in others it’s not, and you’ll know which bits I mean.

That’s when it is all too easy for the preacher to preach a nice moral lesson, which is true and Biblical, but misses out Jesus.

That’s when the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon are so stinging, “No Christ in your sermon sir? Then go home and never preach again until you have something worth preaching!”

On the flipside, the danger is that in trying to make sure his sermon is not just a nice moral lesson, the preacher tags Christ on the end of the sermon or shoe horns Him in, or allegorizes a passage to say something that it doesn’t.

(NB - Allegorizing means taking every detail and spiritualizing it. For example saying Noah’s Ark was made of wood and the cross of Jesus was made of wood and getting to Jesus that way)

Preaching Christ is the aim, and it will be hard work at times, but it is will also be worth it.
Every sermon should leave the congregation saying that they have seen Jesus, because, as the Jesus Storybook Bible says, “Every story whispers His name.”

What about the challenge to the congregation?

The Bible is full of warnings about false teachers who will tell people what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3). They will use fine sounding arguments (Col 2:4). They’ll even look like nice people (Matt 7:15).

What they preach though isn’t the gospel of Christ but something much more palatable, easier to follow, less challenging.

I think it is all too easy listen to, and accept preaching, that is not all about Christ without realizing it. Lots of sermons contain good morals but fail to set forth Christ.

Without Christ in the sermon, anyone could be preaching it. Christ is what makes a sermon Christian.

The number of quotes I see on twitter and facebook from famous preachers, that Christians tag and like and share, which have no gospel content but are merely positive thinking or motivational quips is quite shocking.

We need to ask ourselves, do we lack discernment? Would we know a bad sermon in terms of theology if we heard one? Would we balk at the idea of a sermon that gave us some good morals to live by but didn’t present Christ?

If someone consistently speaks of God or Christian-sounding things like joy and patience and even forgiveness without speaking of Jesus, then we should be wary at the very least.

And when someone does speak of Jesus, are they speaking about Him on His own terms or in ways that they want to give people false hope and false ideas?

Let’s constantly be praying for Jesus to be preached.

Let’s have discerning minds that check what we hear from the pulpit, read in books, watch on Christian TV channel, or listen to on the internet.

Let’s have open Bibles and ask the Spirit to make us people who not only delight to hear Christ being preached, but also know when He isn’t.