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nigel pollock – what about him?

I recently reread John 21 where Jesus is reinstating Peter by the lakeside. It is a terrific passage and I’m sure one that you are familiar with and have probably preached on a number of times. I’m always moved and challenged by the way Jesus deals with Peter, reminding him of his call, feeding him by the lakeside, addressing his denial, establishing relationship again and recommissioning for future service.

What struck me on reading it again was verse 20–21, when in the middle of this intimate dialogue with the Lord where Jesus has been talking about Peter’s death and calling him again to follow him, Peter looks at John and asks “Lord, what about him?” The issue here is that Peter is distracted from listening to Jesus himself and deflects the challenge of Jesus’ words directed to him onto someone else.

On a number of occasions people have enthusiastically told me after a service how appropriate the sermon was and how relevant to somebody else. It is easy to listen to God’s Word and to think that ‘what about them’ question. More than that, when I come into God’s presence and spend time in His Word in preparing what I am going to say there can be a strong temptation to focus on what this means for other people without really working through what it means for me.

I had a friend in Scotland who used to say that preachers were interested in preparing messages, but that God is interested in preparing messengers. So before I think about illustration and application I need to consider what is God saying to me? This ‘what is God saying to me’ question comes before ‘what is God saying through me?’ which comes before ‘what is God saying to them?’ Jesus is clear in His rebuke to Peter that he is to think less about John and more about his own call to follow Jesus. One of the things I like about the whole chapter is the honesty of the interaction. Peter has stuffed up and even as Jesus is dealing with his last stuff up he stuffs up again. As someone who stuffs up a lot I find this enormously encouraging!

Over the last few days I’ve been conducting annual reviews with our senior staff team. In some organisations or companies I guess an annual review might leave the person being reviewed with a list of things to improve and the person conducting the review feeling encouraged at the progress being made. I have found myself over the last few weeks, having plenty opportunity to encourage and affirm growth and progress in those being reviewed but seem to be accumulating an increasingly lengthy list of things that I could do better. To be honest I don’t relish the feelings of shortcomings, inadequacies and failures. I can make myself feel better by saying, ‘what about them?’ But God comes to me in His grace as I am and His is the voice that needs to be loudest in my ears if I am to grow and go on to minister the gospel. So, if I am to preach grace, mercy and forgiveness I need to believe and receive these things from God. If I ask, ‘what about him?’ I will preach religiosity, competition and perfectionism.

Peter has played the ‘what about him’ game before. In Matthew 18 he asked Jesus “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Peter probably thought he was being reasonably generous in his estimate. But Jesus replies “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” and goes on to tell a parable which is essentially about treating others in the context of God’s forgiveness and mercy to us.

“Lord, we thank you for your love to us

King of Glory who we nailed upon the cross

Gentle Shepherd when you’re searching for the lost

Remember us.”

It’s okay for those that I work with to know I make mistakes and am imperfect – I do and I am. I just ask them to please be patient with me; God hasn’t finished with me yet. And I try to listen to God and let Him deal with my stuff so that I can help them deal with theirs.

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Nigel Pollock has a passion for effective evangelism, whole-life discipleship and encouraging the next generation of people of influence.  He is married to Ailsa and they have three boys; Luke (15), Jamie (13) and Craig (9).  The family live in Wellington, where Nigel is National Director of TSCF (Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship). Nigel travels extensively around the Pacific Rim and beyond.  Nigel is the author of Unconditionaland the best-selling Relationships

nigel pollock: preaching christmas

A couple of years ago I was at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in London shortly before Christmas. I stopped to listen to a guy beside a placard, which said, ‘Put Christ back in Christmas’. Walking on 50 metres I came across another individual wearing a sandwich board which proclaimed, ‘Take Christ out of Christmas, it’s a pagan festival’. As far as I could gather both of them seemed to be trying to direct their listeners to Christ. But their tactics were obviously quite different.

I have heard both of these approaches used in Christmas sermons in churches. I wonder which one you are more personally attracted to, or if you have another approach in mind.

Part of the problem with the way Christmas is commonly preached is that the starting point is reactive. We want to affirm that Christmas is not about commercialisation, overindulgence and fighting families. Or to step outside of the traditions of Christmas altogether and just preach Jesus as usual. But neither of these approaches tends to handle the scriptures around the birth and early life of Jesus particularly faithfully.

None of the gospel writers dwell extensively on the birth of Jesus. Mark and John don’t mention it at all. Luke starts with the story of John the Baptist before moving into narrative about Mary, the birth and the shepherds. Matthew starts with the genealogy and describes Joseph’s reaction, the visit of the ‘wise men’ and the flight to Egypt. Both these sections are great stories with high drama and strong theological content. A young couple, a dangerous journey, a stressful birth, fulfilment of prophecy, angels in the sky, shepherds in the fields, wise men travelling a distance, a threatened king, a refugee flight and appalling genocide. At the centre of it all, a baby about whom remarkable things are being said and to whom extraordinary homage is being paid.

So my question is this; why with all this richness of content do we perpetuate a composite romantic myth, which we know never happened?

I know it may be harmless artistic licence to have the wise men arriving shortly after the shepherds, and the star above the stable certainly makes an attractive focal point. And I guess it’s possible that there may have been three wise men who each brought one gift, but equally there could have been two or ten wise men pooling their resources. My concern is that we do justice to this great story and tell it in ways that reflect the ideas and truth in scripture. It is interesting that some of the best-known stories in the bible have elements which we distort, and other parts which we dismiss. I don’t think that a nativity play in three acts where in act one the shepherds come to the stable, in act two the wise men come to the house and in act three the wholesale slaughter of infant boys is acted out is going to be a blessing to many congregations over Christmas and is unlikely to prolong your ministry!

What challenges me at Christmas is how to preach Christ from scripture in a way that engages with biblical reality and circumstances in context of those who are listening. If I don’t want to have a reactive rant or a sentimental yarn what can I do? So if you were standing at Speakers Corner with your headline title on a placard what does it say?

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Nigel Pollock is…

nigel pollock: sated area

In London last year I saw a miss-spelled sign outside a restaurant which I rather liked. The sign writer had missed out an “e” so instead of “seated area downstairs” it read “sated area downstairs”. [NB: according to the dictionary, ‘to sate’ is to feed to the full]. The idea that there is an area downstairs where you can be sated appeals to me. In this room people sit back, full and happy, filled up to the brim, their hunger vanquished. (more…)