These are provocative words.
Does indeed God speak?
Recently I heard about a conversation with someone who was incredulous that anyone could believe in the virgin birth. The idea that Mary was ‘with child’ although never having had sex. It this age with science perhaps such a story is not so incredulous. However in 1st century Palestine such a story may and perhaps did provoke ridicule.
My answer was simply this. If God did indeed speak, and the universe came into being, then why would we logically question the virgin birth. Perhaps more pertinent to us today, why would we question that indeed God does speak to people today.
Perhaps is is when we see that people have indeed got it so wrong. They have said something so clearly unwise, or even whacky. But should this error prevent us from seeing the true?
I wonder if we have denied God’s voice as believers? If we might grieve the Spirit, quench the Spirit by not responding when God is calling? When we have not responded as we ought. When we might have been filled with knowledge, our culture, our biblical learning even, and crowded out that which God was seeking to say.
Around 9 months ago I sat down with our Baptist Pastors Conference team and prayerfully discussed what the theme and vision for this years annual Baptist Pastors Conference in WA would be.
This conference is something I am involved with under the leadership of our Director of Ministries in WA. His heart is that our denomination would experience and know more of God, not only in our minds, but in our hearts. To experience the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment.
Thus we said our theme would be ‘Speak’. To hear, to listen, to ask God to speak to us, to take us further in our faith journey.
Our speaker would be Allan Demond from New Hope Church in Melbourne, a Baptist church that has gone from being known as an ‘anti-charismatic’ church to one that is open to hearing from God. Allan gave such a gentle, good humoured message over the three days. It would be easy to think with the laughter and warmth that nothing too provocative was being said. Far from it. What Allan proposed is a significant shift for many. As evidenced by a excersise he gave us to place ourselves and our churches on a spectrum of being ‘open’ to more of God or ‘closed”. I felt like shouting amen as he spoke and was clearly aware of how confrontational his clear presentation of the scriptural narrative and his own ministry story was.
Perhaps the most poignant moment for me was when he spoke about the Apostle Peter, who wrestled with God when the sheet came down from heaven full of unclean animals. Peter was uncomfortable with what God was saying, and how it was being said. Are we like this? I know I can be. Allan encouraged us to wrestle and stay in that uncomfortable moment where God may indeed be stretching us.
I believe this journey of our denomination is something we really have to offer to the wider church. I believe our strength is our biblical understanding and reverence for the word of God. If we can continue to grow in our experience of that which many of us have not yet experienced of God, how much stronger in Christ we will be. Let us continue to wrestle in that uncomfortable place and think on this. Just because we have not experienced something does not make it unbiblical. In fact so much of the Bible is not our experience. While we might try to explain away or indeed categorise away much of the biblical story, to do so does the text and story a disservice. And may indeed do our Christian journey a disservice.
My own story mirrors the story of Pastor Allan Demond. Being open, placing myself in a position where I can hear from God. This is my desire.
Every 12 months I try to significantly change something about my sermon preparation. Two years ago I started handwriting.
I find it gives me greater focus on what I am writing. Its easy to cut and paste, and delete shuffle and write a lot without thinking if I use a keyboard.
Writing it out in full served me well for a long time. I wrote each word, each joke, even how I would say it.
Moving to handwriting my messages has forced me to really be careful what I write. It is too much effort to cut and paste without Control X!
This past month I have changed to writing less and less. I am actually having to force myself to delinate what is the real point of my message. Another interesting spin off is that I am forcing myself to be more reliant upon God. I am however also practicing the message more. My practice means I am looking up a lot more. If only because there is no safety blanket on the paper.
I am far less concerned with writing a ‘good sermon’. Now I want to preach what God wants me to, for this group of people, on this day. Study is needed. But prayer is needed more.
I do not recommend this method for preachers who are just starting out. For me this has been a growing thing. A way to keep me fresh.
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The Annual Baptist Pastors Conference is happening shortly.
It is always a passion of mine that it be a encouraging and enjoyable time for all who come. This year will be our biggest yet with 219 delegates signed up. That is around 40 more than we have ever had. Its not the number or even the growth that make me happy. Its the fact that more of our family will be together. The Baptist denomination is a robust one, full of all different characters and passions.
This Retreat promises to be one where we will be challenged to hear from God. We love people enough to challenge them to lean in, to resist the urge to be comfortable, to have their spiritual horizons tested. I cannot wait!