Adjusting to strange circumstances
I wonder how you are getting on? I enjoy study and being on my own but for short periods. After a while I need to see people so don’t enjoy enforced isolation. When preparing the material for Tuesday night’s Bible Study and Prayer I used the first question and answer from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question One: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
Answer: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head, indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore by his Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
On Sunday morning Margaret and I listened to the sermon on Matthew 28: 18 – 20 which is on the website and on Sunday evening we listened to Tim Keller preaching on Psalm 88 on YouTube. I was then looking for some Christian music on You Tube as I think worship without singing is less helpful than it might be. I came across Keith and Kristen Getty who have a song which is just released (recorded in collaboration with others) which is based on the Question and Answer above. The title is: ‘Christ our hope in life and death.’ It was very appropriate for such a time as this when we are being reminded that life is short and uncertain.
It is good to think about things that we may find helpful and spiritually nourishing at a time like this when we are not able to use the normal means of grace:
I would recommend listening to good, singable and sound, Christian music as a spiritual help. One of my Bible College lecturers once said we should use a hymnbook for our devotional times - that is helpful advice. Certainly You Tube has some good resources here as does Amazon free.
If you are on the internet there are a many good resources which are available to you. Some free sermon sites are particularly worthwhile. Stuart Olyott’s sermons are available on www.knowyourbible.org, John MacArthur’s on www.gty.org, Tim Keller’s on www.gospelinlife.com, John Piper’s on www.desiringgod.org and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ on the website of www.mljtrust.org. Doubtless there are many others whose sermons are available and worthwhile and if you have any recommendations you would like me to circulate let me know.
That brings me to a question which is worth thinking about – why listen to your own pastor when there are plenty of better preachers available free on the internet? It is something I have been considering for some time. I remember challenging a Christian student in Middlesbrough about his non-church attendance and he explained that he regularly downloaded and listened to sermons at home. One of the arguments I used with him – that we are warned against (Hebrews 10: 25), ‘neglecting to meet together’ is not currently relevant. The choice is simple – do you listen to me or do you listen to someone else who may very well be a better preacher? No reason not to do both of course!
I have the same question about multiple site churches where the lead pastor may preach in several venues by video link. Is that a good idea? Is something lacking in what is happening? I think the answer is that there is something seriously lacking because what happens when a pastor preaches in the church, or in the current situation ‘to the church’, there is a relationship between the people involved. Those belonging to the church relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ – they have commands to love, forgive, encourage and admonish and instruct one another. There is nothing impersonal or abstract because they all know one another and belong to the same community, the same manifestation of the body of Christ. In the same way the pastor has a relationship with the congregation and their relationship to him is shaped by his relationship to them. It is worth noting some scriptures that relate to this:
Hebrews 13: 17: ‘they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.’
1 Peter 5: 2 + 3: ‘shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.’
Jesus told Peter to ‘feed’ and ‘tend’ his ‘sheep/lambs’ (John 21: 15+ 16) and Peter is a ‘fellow elder’ (1 Peter 5: 1), so this is an intended pattern for all church leaders.
Paul is an example in 1 Thessalonians 2: 7 + 8: ‘we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.’ In 1Thessalonians 2: 11 he is ‘like a father with his children’.
So then the pastor is not simply a teacher, although preaching/teaching is a major part of the way in which the sheep are fed and tended. The relationship is far deeper and far more committed than a teacher/pupil relationship. So pray for me as I seek to teach and nurture and encourage and guide you in the weeks ahead.
Yours in the Lord,
Mike Plant (Pastor)