Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grace for Godliness

It's always strange when Wednesday is your Monday - the week is shorter, but there's still the same work to be done. My week began today because the past two days were spent at the Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly (NIMA), in Lisburn.

An excellent couple of days of Bible teaching and practical training for preachers and teachers, with Bryan Chapell and Vaughan Roberts. Vaughan Roberts taught four sessions from Paul's letter to Titus, looking at The Preacher in God's Plan; The Preacher and the Gospel; The Preacher and Godliness; The Preacher and False Teaching, with the letter being thoroughly expounded and applied to the situation of preachers and teachers in the church in the twenty-first century.

Bryan Chapell was taking the more practical sessions, helping us to think carefully about application when preaching. It's probably the area of preaching that I struggle most with, so the sessions were really helpful in urging us to give more thought to the what, where, why and how of application. So as we apply the truth of Scripture, the message of the passage, the 'what' comes directly from our exegesis, but to ground it and make it connect more clearly with our congregation, we need to apply it in the where as well - in the particular situation a truth may be particularly precious; as well as helping people to connect our application with the grace of God.

This was the thing that came out very clearly from both Bryan and Vaughan's sessions - the grace is the fuel for godliness. There's no doubt that we want our congregations to be growing in godliness and abounding in doing good, but how do we call them to do this?

Moral urging either leads to pride (if we think we're achieving it all by ourself) or despair (as we realise we can't actually live to please God); it is only grace that leads to godliness - as a grateful response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, so that the gospel rescues us and helps us to live godly lives of hope. Neither do we narrow grace to either licence (insisting that God will forgive us anyway), or legalism, but true, full, whole, wonderful, amazing grace which empowers us and assures us of God's verdict towards us.

Great teaching, but the conference also gives the opportunity to meet up with a range of 'ecumenical' colleagues in gospel ministry from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, RP and other backgrounds; with the encouragement that comes from seeing that you're not alone in the Lord's work. It was good to meet up with friends I hadn't seen in a while and hear how they're getting on in new ministry situations, as well as meet new friends. As always, the bookstall was provided by John Grier from The Evangelical Bookshop in College Square, which was well worth a visit!

Next on the NIMA calendar is the preaching conference in January, but in due course the audio from the sessions will be available over at the NIMA website, so if you didn't make it, listen in and benefit from the good teaching!

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