Sunday, April 30, 2017

Applying the Bible to the Heart

The Revd Dr Steve Midgley is leading seminars on "Where life and Scripture meet" at Bible by the Beach.

Seminar 1: Applying the Bible to My Heart

He argued that in many cases when believers have moral struggles, the problem is not lack of information or ignorance. The vending machine seems to be malfunctioning: the right money goes in but the right stuff doesn't come out. The answer is not necessarily to put more of the same money in nor to bang the machine!

There is sometimes a Gospel Gap as Trip and Lane put it in How People Change (chapter 1, New Growth Press, 2008): "Often there is a vast gap in our grasp of the gospel. It subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God."

We may have a sense of salvation in the past and assurance for the future, but how does the gospel speak into the nitty gritty of my life now? How does it address my shyness, or laziness, or anxiety, or perfectionism, or difficulty sleeping, or temper? Does the church have more to say than "stop it!"?

We want to know why we go after these sins and how we can change not just at the surface level of behaviour.

We do not want what might be called a mere external (appearance of righteousness) but changed hearts. There is a danger of a performance culture which might lead to despair or self-righteousness, to a religion of works rather than the grace of the gospel.

The heart is the biblical centre of feeling, deciding, thinking, the seat of the mind, will and emotions. It is the heart that forms allegiances, trusts, believes, commits, worships etc. The relational core of our being.

Luke 8:15

Psalm 119:11

Does my heart go after the true and living God or various false gods?

Sanctification - positional and progressive

Heb 10:10

2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:28-29; James 1:2-4

Westminster Shorter Catechism definition of sanctification: "The work of God's free grace whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness"

It is no good to staple fruit onto a bad tree!

Danger of merely cleansing the outside of the cup - Matthew 23:25-28

When something really gets you going emotionally (either in a good or bad way) it is worth taking notice of that. What is going on in your heart and why?

Four initial steps:

(1) Take into account, but do not blame circumstances

We are responsible for how we respond to stuff

Circumstances are like knocks to a cup of water which can reveal what is within

(2) Recognise that a knowledge of self is necessary for a knowledge of God (Calvin)

A role for self-examination and review

Sin needs to be not just an objective fact but a subjective grief - a poverty of spirit which we not only acknowledge but mourn over (Beatitudes 1 & 2)

(3) Know your idols and confess them to God

Ask someone what your major failings are!

See Keller, Counterfeit Gods

(4) Stop believing that some things can't change

Not just "I've always had a short fuse", "I'm a worrier" and we all have to live with that for ever

What might God's ambitions for us be, by his grace and in the power of his Spirit?

See also Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (IVP, 1979) esp. chapter 7 on the sanctification gap

Seminar 2: Applying the Bible in My Relationships

2 Corinthians 3:18

David Powlison, Speaking truth in love - How do the here and now stories connect with God's long ago stories.... Connect one bit of Scripture to what bit of life.... What is your current struggle? What about God in Christ connects to this?

The Word of God in Ministry:
Public proclamation
Private reflection
& Interpersonal conversation

Christ the master conversationist - consider the variety of how he spoke to e.g. The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10), The Woman at the Well (John 4) or Nicodemus (John 3)

CCEF 3 Trees Diagram developed by David Powlison:

Bad root - bad fruit - heat (circumstances +ve and -ve) - reaping consequences
The crucified Lord and life giving Spirit - a good root - good fruit - heat - reaping consequences

Three First Steps in Conversational Ministry:

(1) Know the person you are talking to

1 Thess 5:14 - the rebel, the helpless and the fearful will need confrontation, comfort or help etc.

Flexibility needed. To the hammer, everything might seem to be a nail to hit. The golfer needs more than one club if he is to play a good round.

(2) Listen well

Don't assume / jump to conclusions. Be curious.

Ask another question

Not just like the maths teacher who only ever asks questions he already knows the answers to!

Ask about context: situations matter though they are not determinative

Context of the triune God, spiritual beings, the world / culture, body, heart

What is your own heart and walk with the Lord like? How are they affected by this conversation?

Do you sound natural speaking about Jesus? Holy voice? A bit stressed?!

(3) Speak well

Use the Bible well - not just firing off verses but connection stories e.g. Esther and anxiety, courage, trust in God; Naomi and loss, suffering, bitterness

Notice the good

See the Spirit on the move

Know how to pray for the other person (conversation process a way of beginning to find out!)

Be able to say "we" - you are a sinner with struggles too

Change happens slowly in the details of life. Be patient. Sanctification is progressive not instantaneous.

Further reading:

Ed Welch, Side by Side (Crossway, 2015)
Deepak Reju and Jeremy Pierre, The Pastor and Counselling (Crossway, 2015)
Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands (P&R, 2002)
Tim Keller, Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling -
David Powlison, Speaking the Truth in Love (New Growth Press, 2005)

Seminar 3: Applying the Bible in my church

Conversational ministry / individual discipleship / pastoral care / one-anothering / soul care / counselling

David Powlison notes that in Mark 7-11, there are 26 scenes. 4 show action, Jesus doing stuff. 4 are public preaching. 18 are conversations.

An Ephesians 4 church where the gospel is put into practice for the sake of maturity: humility, gifts, unity, diversity

God has given teachers etc. / word gifts to equip all God's people for the work of ministry for the building up of all to maturity

A one-another church is meant to be the norm

NT be devoted to, love, honour, encourage, accept, submit to, speak to. instruct, greet, forgive, teach one another - and so on

Bonehoffer: The believer finds "the Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the words of his brother" - others speaking to us of Jesus helps us when we are not ministering the gospel to ourselves effectively

This one-anothering is a vital word ministry

Specrtum from general to particular issues and many people to one person - public preaching, small groups, one to one discipleship, counselling, seminars on issues, support groups etc.

Speaking the truth in love should not mean really letting 'em have it with both barrels! Not always something we have to brace ourselves for but natural, ongoing, including encouragement, comfort, reminder of promises, reassurance, though sometimes confrontation

A varied ministry

No sharp division between ministry moments and social time / Bible study and coffee in homegroups

Relate the Bible and ordinary life, naturally and realistically

Serve one another in conversation

Of course there is a place for small talk, but sometimes push beyond your comfort zone / social convention

An existing ministry. People talk already in your church! Do they talk well?!

The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.

Invest time. Arrive early. Hang about.

Pray for opportunities.

Developing a culture of good one-anothering:

(1) Set a personal example - e.g. speak of struggles, prayer request about gospel growth

(2) increase your application to the heart in preaching or Bible study. Not just information transfer but heart and life transformation.

(3) Improve the coffee! And generally make it easier for people to meet / stay on / talk meaningfully after church etc.

(4) Create contexts for honest conversations about walk with the Lord - mentor groups for homegroup leaders?

(5) Make sure there is ministry in all 4 quadrants of the public-private / general-specific grid described above

(6) Promote prayer for one another - prayer ministry in church

(7) Encourage some training

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