Author: Peter Somervell

Those post-preaching blues (Peter Somervell)

In less than an hour after I finished preaching I was only a few steps out the door of the church when it hit. It’s hard to explain but I think those who suffer depression might relate. It’s a feeling (and yes I’ll have to use that word) of deep emptiness, hollowness and gloom. Doubts began to form in my mind:

‘That was a really bad sermon’, ‘You’ve been preaching this long and you still manage a fail-boat like that?’, ‘So you had two people who liked it; if only you knew what the others were thinking.’

It’s not just psychological. It’s physical. There’s a heaviness of spirit and it isn’t imaginary. I really felt like I weighed an extra 10 kg but with less strength. Everything was an effort. Even opening the car door seemed like work.

If you are in Christian ministry of any kind your spiritual antennae is no doubt starting to twitch – big time. You’re thinking, ‘That’s not just a simple case of the blues. That’s a spiritual battle.’ And you’d be right. Those thoughts of doubt and despair were not merely human in origin; they had another source – Satan. And I happened to be preaching about him – well not him directly, but the place where he is heading. And I was warning others not to follow him. Obviously that’s not going to go down all that well, with him or with any of his helpers. So it was not that surprising that he might show his displeasure with me. I was preparing for his attack in the days leading up to my sermon but not after. I was caught badly off guard.

Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-18,

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

You may have heard it said, “You don’t have to fight any battle, the Lord fights for you.” That sounds all very spiritual but I don’t think it’s entirely accurate. Paul says we wrestle. He’s talking about believers. We are in a battle. We are facing off with the enemy.

So here I was an hour after preaching a very difficult message, afflicted with disappointment, doubt and great heaviness of spirit. I’m experiencing a spiritual battle and I’m receiving hits from the enemy. So what do I do? What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

1. Be strong in the Lord, or seek strength from the Lord. You’re weak. You’re vulnerable. You need spiritual strength. And Jesus can supply it. So ask him for it. Later in the afternoon after I rested I started to do that. I should have started a lot earlier.

2. Put on the armour of God. Fasten the belt of truth, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness, lace up the gospel shoes, take up the shield of faith, put on the helmet of salvation and grab hold of the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. I want to focus on one of these in particular – the shield of faith. What’s a shield for? Deflecting missiles – in the soldier’s case, arrows and spears. In the Christian soldier’s case – spiritual arrows and spears. Paul calls them “fiery darts.” Satan is continually shooting “fiery darts” at our hearts and minds – lies, impure thoughts, sinful thoughts about others, doubts, fears, suspicions, and misgivings. We need to deflect these darts and extinguish their flames. And we do that with the shield of faith. Faith by definition looks away from self to God alone for help. Faith locks on to God and his trustworthiness. Put your trust in him. Trust his strength, trust his promises, trust his character and trust his wisdom.

3. Stand firm. Don’t go chasing Satan and don’t run from him. Just stand your ground. Be firm in your faith. Hold on to Jesus and there’s not a lot he can do.

4. Pray, pray, pray. Pray yourself and get others praying for you. A friend sent me a text later in the afternoon. When I told him what was going on he replied straight away, “Praying for you.” And it made a difference. Spiritual battles need to be fought using spiritual means and prayer is one of the most (if not the most) powerful.

There are some other practical suggestions I would like to add to this that I have learned by way of experience:

· Share. Tell someone you trust what is going on. You need others looking out for you. That’s what the body of Christ is for. Tell your husband or your wife or a friend that you can confide in.

· Rest. Preaching and teaching is exhausting work. Your body needs some time to recharge. Find some where quiet and close your eyes.

· Eat. Preferably eat something healthy. A good, healthy meal well help replenish the energy that’s been released.

· Serve. Take an interest in the people around you. Ask how they are doing. Listen and respond. Help your wife. Do something for one of your kids. It will help you get your eyes off yourself and slipping into too much morbid introspection.

Postscript: Shortly after writing this (I penned it the same day) my head began to clear, the weight began to lift and my joy was restored. That’s the power of meditating on the Word of God. It really is a sword.

The Funeral Sermon (Peter Somervell)

I have a confession to make: I’ve never liked funerals. I’ve often thought about why; I think it goes back to my childhood experience. Death, along with sex and religion was one of the three subjects we never spoke about in my family. Even when my half-brother was tragically killed in a plane crash, there was no explanation, no grieving process – just deathly silence. And my father never mentioned his name again. Attending his funeral was the most horrible experience a 9 year-old could ever imagine.

Then I got saved. That changed everything. For the first time in my life, I was free from the fear of death. I had hope, I had eternal life – I had Jesus. Funerals became a whole lot easier for me. I now had a framework in which to fit them in. Funerals for unbelievers were incredibly sad, but funerals for believers became a time of rejoicing.

Now I am a Pastor and I see funerals as a wonderful opportunity for the gospel. No ‘sermon hook’ is needed for this occasion. Everyone is looking at it in the middle of the room.

Preparing for a funeral sermon however, is not an easy thing. I look back at some of the funerals I took in my early ministry and I’m aghast at what I got up and said. I was too clinical, too impersonal and too formal. And my message didn’t always relate to the life of the individual concerned. So I have worked hard to try to change things. I started paying close attention to other, more seasoned ministers – even if I didn’t agree with what they said. They had a warmth about them that I lacked. And they seemed to touch the souls of people, not just their heads. I also started reading any funeral sermons I could find online. This was immensely helpful and I’m thankful to those pastors who posted them.

I’m sure there are a number of young ministers out there who are still finding their way in this area. What does make for a good funeral message? Here are a few tips that might help you:

· It should be true to the person. Your audience will be looking at the casket and thinking about the life of that person. You’re not going to be able to pull the wool over their eyes. Do your homework. Find out everything you can about the person from as many different people (including non-Christians) as you can.

· It should be fitting for the audience. Start feeling the ‘pulse’ of the family and the kind of people they tell you will be coming. Are they Christian or non-Christian, religious or irreligious, antagonistic to the faith or open? This will affect both the tone and content of what you will say. At a recent funeral learned that there was going to be a number of people there who would call themselves Christian but are not living it. They have made some kind of commitment when they were young but have not followed through. My message was largely directed toward these very people.

· It must be honouring to God. At the end of it all, you get to stand before God and give and answer for everything you have said, not to your audience. So strive to please God, not man.

· It must be gospel-centered. If what you have to say isn’t about Jesus and what he came to do, you shouldn’t be getting up and saying anything. You are a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). A funeral is a wonderful and fitting opportunity for the gospel – that Jesus has overcome death, opened heaven’s doors and offers eternal life to all who will repent and believe in Him.

· It must be sharp and to the point. My usual experience is enough has been said by the time you get up. People will be looking at their watches. So get up, speak up and shut up. Hit home base as quickly as you can, without appearing to be rushing.

· It must offer hope. People must be able to walk out thinking, “There is a way to heaven for me; there is still hope.” If they aren’t able to say that, you haven’t shown them the way.

Enough said there. A couple of weeks back I took a funeral for a wonderful man of God who gave his life to serving Jesus and helping others come to know and walk with him. I posted that message on my personal blog. If you are interested, you can have a read here: http://petersomervell.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/a-feneral-sermon/

No More Hurting People: the Boston Bombing (Peter Somervell)

It was designed for maximum impact and maximum casualty – and, as with 9/11 when people were least expecting it. It’s Patriot’s Day (perhaps that was a warning), the New England winter has loosed its icy grasp and spring is in the air. Trees are starting to blossom and the sun is warming the place up. The Red Sox are playing their home game at Fenway Park, but it ends before the end of the race and the numbers in the crowd in downtown Boston begin to swell. Then just as the runners are making their way across the finish line the bombs go off. Explosions. Chaos. Smoke. Screams. Blood. Carnage. Panic. Sirens. Fear. Death. In all, 183 people need treatment, 23 are hospitalized, 40 receive serious injuries, and 3 are dead.

One of those killed was a young boy called Martin. He was there to hug his dad as he crossed the finished line. Just he returned to the sidewalk, a bomb went off. He was only 8 years old. There’s a photograph of him almost a year ago at his school holding up a blue sign decorated with hearts with the words “Peace.” He had also written on another sign, “No more hurting people.”

It’s all that many people in the world really want isn’t it? They want peace. They want people to stop hurting and killing each other. But the problem is there is no peace. And people just can’t seem to stop hurting and killing each other. Why is this? Why must little boys like Martin die?

What I have to say next has to be taken in the context of one who is far removed from this tragedy. I would never say these things to people who were close to or personally involved in what happened (at least, not immediately). That would call for a different response – one of compassion, love, and service to those who are suffering. The answers to the “why” of this tragedy – as with all tragedies cannot be found in the media, commentators (especially not commentators), social analysts, or the President. That is because the answers are profoundly theological. Outside the framework of the Bible the Boston bombing makes no sense. Inside the framework of the Bible it makes all the sense in the world. Bottom line: little boys die because we live in a world that is in active rebellion against its Creator. And that’s got to have consequences. While people are choosing to live without God, while everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, and while Satan is roaming to and fro throughout the world instigating every kind of evil, there are bound to be adverse effects. And don’t blame it all on the terrorists or the evil dictators or the extremists. We are all to blame – the whole lot of us. A little yeast affects the whole lump (1 Cor. 5:6). Whatever sin is in your heart right now, as you are reading this post, contributes to the whole. If it were not for the restraining hand of God, it would have disastrous consequences.

The problem in these things you see is not lack of answers. The problem is people’s blindness and refusal to accept the answers that are given. This in turn opens up a marvelous opportunity for the children of light – for those who do see and do understand, to help lead others to the truth that can set them free. But first we must enlarge our understanding of what it means to live in a fallen world, so that when disaster does strike, we are not surprised or devastated because of false expectations. As D.A. Carson puts it, “The Bible does not tell us that life in this world will be fair. Evil and sin are not Victorian gentlemen; they do not play fair” (How Long O Lord? 2nd ed., p. 57).

Of course it can’t stop there. When 8 year old boys are blown apart we can’t simply say, “Sin brings death. Get used to it.” We must push to the remedy. We must offer hope. We must talk about the one who experienced unimaginable suffering; the one who knew no sin and became sin on our behalf, who suffered and died that we might live, and will one day come again to restore all things in a new heavens and a new earth.

That’s good news for a world gone bad. And we must never, ever, tire of sharing it.

Treasuring God’s Word in the New Year (Peter Somervell)

Out of all the games I got to play as a kid my all-time favourite was the Treasure Hunt. It starts off slow but then as clues are discovered the pace quickens and it builds in intensity until you get to the last clue and kids are going absolutely wild – lifting up bricks, opening letterboxes, over-turning grass-clippings while someone calls out “warmer,” “colder,” “hotter… boiling!”

Treasure Hunting isn’t just something for kids; grown men have been doing it for thousands of years. They might start with a map or a clue and they would abandon their homes and families to travel the world in search of gold, silver, and precious jewels. It was risky business and many lives were lost along the way. Such was the lure for wealth and prosperity and the promise of a better life.

God tells us about another kind of treasure that is greater than any the world can offer. Unlike gold and silver and precious stones, its benefits are not temporary and short-lived, they are long-lasting and eternal. Unlike earthly treasure this treasure makes good on its promises. I’m speaking here about the Word of God. The Psalmist has this to say about it:

“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Ps. 119:72)

Have a think about that. What would you get more excited about – finding gold in your backyard or discovering something new about God or Jesus or heaven in His Word? How you answer that will directly reflect on the amount of time and effort you give to it.

Little time in the Word = little discovery, little joy, and little reward

Much time in the Word = much discovery, much joy and much reward

Psalm 119 has a lot to say about the value of God’s Word in the believer’s life. And almost every verses relates directly to its author, which means it’s is not just about valuing the bible but valuing GOD. The Psalmist loves God’s Word because He loves God. He longs for God’s Word because his soul longs for God. He rises early and stays up late to be in God’s Word because He desires to be with God. This psalm is wholly and thoroughly God-centered. Matthew Henry recalls how his father advised his children to take one verse of this Psalm every morning and meditate on it which would get you through it twice in one year. Do this his father said, “And it will bring you to be in love with all the rest of the Scriptures.”

It will also bring you closer to Christ. This psalm is often criticized for being too Word centred and not Christ-centred. What? How could anyone say that? Consider these lines:

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (v.10)

Who seeks God with their whole heart – consistently? I don’t. But Jesus does. He said, “I always do what is pleasing to Him” (Jn 8:29).

I will keep your law continually, forever and ever (v.44)

Who has perfectly kept God’s law and never broken it? Only Jesus.

I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation (v.99)

Luke tells us “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (2:47) – at 12 years of age. And when he had finished his parables they said, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matt 13:54).

My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words (v.139)

What did Jesus say as he was driving out the money changers from the temple? “Zeal for your house will consume me” (Jn. 2:17).

Of course there are many lines in this Psalm that could never be true of Christ – sorrow over sin committed, confessions of failure, inconsistency, and anxiety, but these are very true of us, who unlike Jesus, struggle with our own sinful flesh.

Hopefully by now I’ve whetted your appetite. I’ve got your interest. There is plentiful treasure here! But what are you going to do about it? Will you press (or should I say “dig”) further? Will you give your time and energy to God’s Word this year – not just for your ministry, but for your own soul?

If so here are 5 practical suggestions for staying committed in the New Year:

1. Make sure you own a Bible that you really like. It ought to be the best looking book on your shelf. And try to avoid small type. If you are going to meditate on it, you need to be able to read it!

2. Find a bible reading plan that works for you. One helpful source is www.YouVersion.com

3. Read prayerfully. Don’t read to gain knowledge. Read to find Christ. The Word takes you to God. He’s the destination.

4. Be persistent. If you miss a day or two in your daily readings, don’t quit. 3 days a week is better than 0 days a week. And 5 is better than 3.

5. Be practical. The bible is meant to be obeyed, not admired.

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (119:105). Lamps aren’t much good if they are stuffed under the bed or left under a pile of books. They need to be held and switched on. Then they will show us the way.

My son wants a tattoo (Peter Somervell)

It’s every dad’s worst nightmare. Perhaps I should correct that; it’s some dad’s worst nightmare. Your son (or daughter) suddenly announces to you their preference for body art and yes, he’s talking about the permanent kind. Your first reaction is panic (what I am going to do now?), then fear (what if he doesn’t listen?) and then after you get used the initial shock, some very hard thinking as to what God says on the subject. At least, that’s how it was for me, while I was talking about the subject in the abstract with my son, and he then informed me he liked the idea himself.

So what does God say about tattoos? Remarkably little when you go searching. Grab a concordance and have a look yourself. There’s one verse – Lev. 19:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD” (ESV); which, at first glance does sound like an awfully handy verse to throw at a rebellious teenager. How much clearer can you get?

A lot clearer actually. Please don’t throw that at them – it’s not only a bad approach, it’s bad theology. James warns us about using the heavy hand of the law (usually for our own advantage); "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). If you’re going to insist, on the basis of the Mosaic Law, tattoos are out, you also need to forbid fancy haircuts and beard-shaving (19:27) and juicy steaks on the BBQ (19:26). And while you’re at it, there’s no more trousers for women (Deut. 22:5), clothes with mixed cloth (Deut. 22:11) and you’ll need to get in a builder to put up a parapet around your roof (Deut. 22:8), in case someone may fall off and you incur the guilt. Sorry, you can’t pick and choose.

OK, so where does that now leave us? Well now you have to apply some gospel wisdom. A good place to start, since this is an issue of the physical body, is to look at the body through New Testament eyes. What’s God’s view of the Christian body? Well He thinks it’s pretty special. It’s a temple for His Spirit. And because of this we are informed in 1 Corinthians 6 that we must not follow the “use it and abuse it” philosophy of the world. As new creatures in Christ we aren’t to treat our bodies as we please; “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). If you are thinking of permanently engraving your body with certain pictures/symbols/letters, I think it would be a real good idea to ask permission from the owner – wouldn’t you?

Secondly, we need to consider the new aeon; the age to come. One day our bodies will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15). God is not going to toss these bodies away, he is going to resurrect and transform them into something wonderful. So the question you might want to consider is, “Would God keep the tattoos?” I’m not being funny here. This is an important question. Our bodies don’t go to the grave and stay there. They are coming out. If we conclude, “Then the marks need to come off,” we need to then ask, “Why do they need to come off?”

And then thirdly and perhaps most importantly there is the matter of motive. Jesus said the whole law could be summed up with this: love God and love your neighbor. So here are some questions I would want to ask any young person who was thinking about this:

· What are my motives for wanting a tattoo?

· Am I seeking to glorify God or draw attention to myself?

· Will my tattoo be a source of contention for my loved ones?

· Will getting a tattoo (or pierced nose or Kimbra CD) cause me to disobey my parents?

· Will my tattoo cause someone who is weak in the faith to stumble?

There are other things to consider as well such as seeking wisdom from wise and mature Christians, praying and waiting on the Lord and perhaps interviewing a number of Christians that already have tattoos (for at least 10 years). If all else fails and you a distressed parent who is battling a disobedient teen, you could always have them watch the recent 60 minutes documentary on tattoo removal. It will put them off it for life.

Later that night, while I was driving my son home he said to me, “You don’t have to worry Dad, I don’t really want a tattoo. I just wanted to see how you reacted.” A test on my sanctification. I could now sleep easy. Thanks son.