Monday, February 28, 2005

One more word on forgiveness

Jollyblogger has some profound insights into what is really going on in our hearts when we "wrestle" to forgive someone.

The Kingdom of God isn't populated by wimps

Scotwise has some good reminders, in light of Matt. 11:12, about the need for forcefulness in the Kingdom of God:
The word forceful means: Powerful, Dynamic, and Effective. God requires us as Christians, to have this type of attitude today. In essence Jesus is saying that since John the Baptist, the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully pressing forward towards its goal, and in order to maintain this momentum, it needs powerful, dynamic and effective Christians!
It's an ongoing series--challenging reading.

Sanctity of life over quality of life

In his ongoing "Now Choose Life" series, Rusty at Believer Blog has solid ideas on what the Book of Job has to tell us about the value of life: Job valued sanctity of life over quality of life. Even when things got about as bad as they could for Job, he refused to simply "Curse God and die":
End it all? Never. Job never bought into the notion he would be better off just ending it all. His knew that life belonged to God. Not to Job or any other human being. God alone had given life to him. It was only right to leave it to God alone to conclude it in His way. That's what Job believed. In the "sanctity of life."
It's a post worth reading. Rusty promises more on the sanctity of life based on Psalm 139.

And let's keep praying for and preaching about Terri Schiavo.

Update on forgiveness post

Mike from Eternal Perspectives offers a valid reminder regarding today's post on forgiveness. Christians, he notes, don't have the market cornered in that department:
Personally, I have often experienced forgiveness from non-Christians who had every right to be upset with me. But sometimes they have a greater awareness of their own flaws than do Christians, and are thus more apt to forgive a transgression.

We need to guard against an attitude that says we're better than and capable of more than non-Christians. It is not the sort of humility I believe God desires in us.
Good point. Christians, I think, should have a deeper-than-ordinary appreciation for forgiveness that arises from knowing God has forgiven us. But let's remember: that knowledge arises because we need forgiveness as much as anyone else.

The need for preaching politics

Dignan's 75-Year Plan quotes Marc Porlier on the Emergent church movement. Mr. Porlier has some strong insights into a variety of issues. This one in particular caught my eye:
I'll go out on a cold, bare limb here: I think pastors should preach about politics and social morality. Not in the partisan manner that it is often done in Fundie circles, but avoiding politics (and policy) altogether makes Christianity a pious, but irrelevant existential exercise. Why do we avoid politics in the pulpit? I think it's because Americans and the rest of the West have digested the Kantian subjectivising of religion. We instinctively want to keep it in the personal, private sphere of our lives. We don't even know how to think of it in public terms, except as a form of tyranny. This is a mistake. Politics is ethics (both economic and behavioral) at the corporate level. The Bible has plenty to say about corporate ethics. So should our preachers.
Very good points that have me thinking. I avoid preaching (or blogging) about politics not because they are a private matter, but because they are divisive--primarily, I think among the spiritually immature (whether in the pew or in the pulpit). I try to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the repentance, sacrifice, and transformation it engenders. If we truly allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Christ, our views on political issues should begin to move in a godly direction. Until then, I'm afraid preaching about politics will cause the spiritually immature to interpret my preaching as partisan rhetoric while missing the real issues of dying to self and living for Christ. Is this approach simply being escapist or naive?

Update: You might want to read Doug Floyd's comment here.

More on forgiveness

James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries (HT: Joshua at RazorsKiss) points out that our ability to forgive is a gift from God, based on his forgiveness of us:
Those who have not been forgiven find it impossible to forgive. The power that allows us to truly forgive is the same power that has brought us forgiveness. This is one reason why the sticky sentimentality of so much of modern evangelicalism really robs believers of the true power of the Christian faith: we can truly forgive others because we see the cross not as the Big Failure where God tries and fails in so many cases, but for what it truly is. We can see it in its fulness: that place where justice, holiness, wrath, mercy, grace, and love all come together in that one glorious place and time, meeting, and being resolved perfectly, in the Incarnate Son. The person who sees in Christ that perfect atonement for his or her own sins, and understands the great price by which redemption full and free has been purchased, has the ability to forgive others. Only the forgiven forgive. . . we can't, but He can, in us.

Plans made for Christian bloggers convention

The first annual Christian bloggers convention will be held Thursday October 13 through Saturday October 15, 2005, at Biola Christian University near Los Angeles. Workshops are planned, and special guest will be Hugh Hewitt. Details are being posted at SmartChristian Blog. This sounds like a great event.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Forgiving the unrepentant

Jollyblogger and Eternal Perspectives write this weekend about repentance and forgiveness. Both articles deal with the difficult question of forgiving the unrepentant. Mike at EP gives a solid biblical grounding to the topic, while David at Jb includes some very practical insights.

David and Mike help dispel a lot of the hogswallop surrounding the ideas of forgiveness and repentance in the minds of some Christians. Many, I think, want to extend unconditional forgiveness with no consideration at all for repentance. Worse, perhaps, is the attitude I held for years: that unless someone repents of an offense against us, we are free in God's eyes to nurture our hurt and resentment.

The only way I'm able to forgive the unrepentant is the way the psalmists did: leave it to God. In many cases I can't excuse the behavior, but I can relinquish my claim to vengeance on the one who has hurt me. As Paul told the Romans in the "chapter of transformation": "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'" (Rom. 12:19).

Update: John offers more thoughts on this issue at Blogotional.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Chasing the life change of the week

Mr. Standfast shines the light on how cheaply and presumptuously the term "life-changing" is thrown around for the latest Christian fad. Christians make the claim for changed lives, Mr. Standfast notes, without even waiting to see if they really will live differently:
Christian publishing caters incessantly to this tendency in us, this inclination to spiritual fads, this incessant grasping for novelty. Christian merchandising assaults us with the same rank hyperbole so endemic to the mainstream culture. We no longer even consider it lying, because we've been inoculated with this particular brand of truth-stretching since childhood. Over-exposure has dulled our capacity for discernment. I wonder how many people, good and sincere people, who claimed their lives were forever changed by "The Prayer of Jabez," are still praying that prayer today. Relatively few, I suppose. They've moved on to being "wild at heart," or "purpose-driven," or whatever.
Not to be reductionist, but it's not the latest book on Christian discipleship that changes lives. Let's remember Paul, sent by Christ to preach the gospel, "and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:17-18).

Update: John at Blogotional continues the conversation with a very thorough review of what the Christian blogosphere has been saying on this topic. John makes a critical point about the dangers of treating God as a means to an end. He also includes an extensive quote from one of my own favorite passages out of the Chronicles of Narnia. Good stuff.

Don't trust government to keep the faith

Brooke Allen has an article this week in The Nation arguing persuasively that the United States was not founded as a "Christian nation":
Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent. . . Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate . . .
Although I don't endorse Allen's political slant, the article's historical concepts are valid. While the United States has always been a nation of Christians, the philosophical and political underpinnings of our government itself have never been. It is a distinction worth making.

What are the consequences of this distinction? For Christians it does not matter politically whether the United States is a "Christian" nation or not. Either way we are equally bound to be salt and light to the world, to encourage justice and peace, and to obey the government.

In terms of building Christian character, however, the distinction is significant. Christians must not look to the world as a "prop" for the church. Christian formation is the mission of the church, not of Caesar. Government is ordained by God, but so is hell. Both are consequences of a fallen world, and neither, of themselves, build Christian character.

When the church depends on the benevolence of government or society to form Christians, we not only shirk our own responsibility; we risk diluting and polluting the hard message of repentance and transformation in Christ. Will Willimon addressed this very issue in "Making Christians in a Secular World." Willimon describes the end of the culture's serving as a "prop" for the church in his hometown more than forty years ago. Says Willimon:
I believe that the day is coming, has already come, when the church must again take seriously the task of making Christians -- of intentionally forming a peculiar people.
Even today many Christians look to society to help build Christian character. It won't happen. The world may encourage us to be good Americans, but only the church--equipped with the Word of God--can train us to be citizens of the Kingdom.

Friday, February 25, 2005

It's not about us

Blogotional reminds us that, at bottom, discipleship is not about self-help.

Classic counsel on preaching the gospel

Scotwise has some thoughts on soul winning from D. L. Moody and Charles G. Finney.


Today as usual I'll be posting morning and evening, but not as many each time. Yesterday was a heavy posting day, so today let's you and me both take a little break to catch up. If you like Bible study (and narrative patterns), you might want to look at yesterday's John 4 post, along with the longer article linked there. Let's also be in prayer for the life of Terri Schiavo.

Mining the Bible to find ourselves

Theophilus at notes from the front lines discusses the all-too-human tendency to approach the Bible as something we dig through to find something for ourselves. Theo's insights came during a presentation by a missionary in a seminary class:
One of the missionaries was making the point that many believers, particularly ones in America, view Scripture as if it were primarily about them, and not God. And that's the way we read the Bible, the way we used to open our high school yearbooks for the first time when we got them. What did we do? We turned to our picture to see how we turned out. That's how we read the Bible these days, to see what I can get out of it for myself, to improve my self-esteem, to see what strategies I can employ to "enlarge my territory." But time after time after time throughout Scripture, we see God working and acting to bring Himself glory. Isn't that what we should be doing as Christians, too?
Yes it is.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Strangers on our own home planet

Debra at As I See It Now shares her meditations on being a stranger on her own home planet--a planet where everything, it seems, calls out to us to conform to its ways:
The world has intelligent-sounding advice and formulas. Yet, should I listen to the worldly of my planet tell me how to think? How to write? How to clean my house, or arrange my schedule to get more accomplished? How to reach my goals, make a sale or raise my daughter?

I don't want to come to the end of my days and have God tell me there was a whole different way to live upon this Earth--and I never found it. May I not discover too late that the way to live in this opposite world was to Listen.
After reading Debra's post, I'm reminded that after the roar and rumble of the world, God once spoke to Elijah in "a still, small voice" (1 Ki. 19:12ff).

On slowing down

Tod at It Takes a Church has been posting his thoughts on slowing down. What we need, Tod says, is time to bask:
When we bask, we adore. Taking in the taste and smells, feeling the wind and the sunlight, noticing the smiling faces and sad eyes of others. Taking the time for a lingering hug of a loved one, to hear a good joke, to look at the sunset. We sit and be.
The best book I've read on being, albeit not necessarily from a Christian perspective, is Eric Fromm's To Have or to Be.

Why bad things happen

Rusty Peterman explores why very bad things, like the efforts to starve Terri Schiavo, continue to happen in the world. His answer? ". . . there's a war going on. There's an Enemy out there."

I haven't figured out how to find permalinks on Rusty's blog, so make sure you read the February 24, 2005, entry.

Secularism does not exist

The title here should be "There's no such thing as secular," but the other title was already on the aggregators.

Acid Ink has some compelling thoughts on what is really going on with the whole idea of the "secular":
Secularism is a myth. You and I have never seen anybody doing anything 'secular.' There is no such thing as secularism. The notion of Secularism has been created by those who call themselves 'Secularists' in order to provide a allegedly neutral territory where people put aside their confessed Faith systems in order to get on with the job of life. Government Schools, for example, supposedly cannot say or teach anything about God therefore in order to seemingly avoid that they use smoke and mirrors and come up with education that pretends to be God neutral since it is 'Secular.'

Since there is no such thing as Secularism we are required to ask what that which is called Secularism really is. The answer to that is the faith system called humanism.
In proclaiming the Word of God, we are not coming up against a neutral culture. The culture wasn't neutral to the OT prophets, wasn't neutral to the NT apostles. Why should we expect the culture to be neutral today? "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

On being separate from the culture

Paul at Caught in the Middle has some thoughts, with the help of Walter Brueggemann, on being different from the culture. Because this is not a permalink, make sure to check out the posts from February 22 & 23, 2005.

Jesus, the woman, and the well in John 4

For those of you doing lectionary preaching, I've included some thoughts on John 4:5-42 at my other blog.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Neil Anderson Symposium

Eternal Perspectives is seeking papers for an online Neil Anderson symposium. Papers are being accepted through the first week of March on a variety of Anderson's teachings.

Preaching funeral sermons

Craig Loscalzo at The Online Pulpit has some helpful thoughts on preaching funeral sermons.

Review of Wallis's latest book

The Washington Post recently published a review of Jim Wallis's God's Politics. Evangelicals, particularly those of a politically conservative slant, would do well to consider Wallis's views on poverty and social justice. Whatever you may think of Wallis's politics, he is a powerful critic of the satanical influence of the world order. Wallis is a serious thinker with a capacity for framing world events in biblical perspective. I've found his work very helpful through the years in gaining a theologically fresh background for my preaching and teaching.

Update: Here's an interview with Wallace (thanks to SmartChristian for the link). Also, I now have the name of the book right.

Differences in preaching and teaching

Conrad Gempf, in some of his online class notes, makes a distinction between preaching and teaching. Conrad may consider much of his teaching to be "throw-away lines," but I find him to be an insightful and engaging interpreter of the biblical text. Reading his teaching is definitely a help to preaching.

Praying till you pray

In congregational ministry, one of the hardest sides of the Christian life is to devote sufficient time to prayer. There is so much need in any congregation, that it's all too easy not to take the time to spend with God each day in prayer. This week John at Scotwise featured these words by A. W. Tozer on praying till you really start to pray:
The habit of breaking off our prayers before we have truly prayed is as common as it is unfortunate. Often the last ten minutes may mean more to us than the first half hour, because we must spend a long time getting into the proper mood to pray effectively. We may need to struggle with our thoughts to draw them in from where they have been scattered through the multitude of distractions that result from the task of living in a disordered world.
John is continuing the series on prayer with other posts this week.

Blogroll additions

Please welcome two new additions to the TS blogroll:

OKpreacher and Bowden McElroy.

I've been to both sites, and they're good stuff.

Update: I didn't mean to overlook another addition, Team Swap.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

John 4 at Textweek

Textweek's weekly summary of lectionary links is now posted. This week's text is one of my favorites: John 4:5-42.

Preaching Now this week

Preaching Now for this week is online. This week's issues has some sobering statistics from Michael Duduit, along with a better-than-average collection of illustrations.

On Freedom in Christ

Rusty Peterman has some helpful thoughts on freedom in Christ. An excerpt:
Jesus wants me to see that Christianity isn't about burdensome commands and rules. Every imperative I read in God's Word is one meant to guide me into keeping company with Jesus--becoming more like Him.

I have freedom from the threat of God’s judgment. When I was a kid, I somehow picked up the idea that, when I die, I wanted to die in church. I mean, how safe is that? That was my thinking. Or at least just after a prayer asking for forgiveness. I didn’t want to go to hell--no right-thinking person would. I had this saved-lost-saved-lost kind of concept about the Christian life. That’s not freedom. That’s bondage. It’s also the height of legalism. It turns good news into bad news. One Scripture really helps me see what Jesus gives me: "Therefore, there is no no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2).
I grew up with the same belief that if I died without confessing a sin, I would go straight to hell. Rusty's right. That's bondage. Praise God that when we are in Christ we're no longer under condemnation.

Update: John at Blogotional has more to say on what Christian freedom really is here.

Preaching on Terri Schiavo

Terri Schiavo is scheduled to have her feeding tube removed today. That means that, without some kind of intervention, she will dehydrate to death in a week or two. What will you be preaching on while that's happening? Wittenberg Gate has links to a number of posts that put this case in perspective. For a particularly apt post, here is Catez from Allthings2all:
Terri Schiavo should not be executed. It is an indictment of the most awful kind to condemn a person to death for the sake of expediency.
In her article, Catez makes a disturbing parallel to the beginning of euthanasia in Nazi Germany.

As I've said before, I try to avoid politics or any issues that might divide sincere, faithful Christians. But is there really another side to this story? For Christians is there any justification to allow Ms. Schiavo's adulterous husband to force her to be killed?

Update: Praise God that our prayers have been answered, at least for now, on keeping Terri alive. Let's not give up speaking up or praying up about Terri.

More on ministry and maintenance

John at Blogotional continues the discussion begun by Adam at Adventures in Following Jesus on mission or maintenance in ministry. John, along with Peter at Stronger Church, rightly points out that maintenance (i.e., edification and discipleship-building) are equally a part of our call in ministry, and in fact are part of the Great Commission.

The problem, I should have made more clear in my original post, is not with maintenance per se, but with the social-club mentality that so easily creeps into churches. Part of our emphasis should indeed be inward, but not simply to make ourselves more comfortable. Christians are called to be disciples, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Update: Blogotional has more on the topic here.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Blog break

I'll be away from blogging till Monday, trying out for a new preaching job. Please pray for me, my family, and the church to all have wisdom, discernment, and hearts for the will of God.

On Terri Schiavo

With this post I'm doing two things I don't normally do. One is to broach a subject that might be considered political. The other is to include someone else's entire post on my blog. But the case of Terri Schiavo is so egregious, and this post from Wittenberg Gate so penetrating, that I'm posting the whole thing. If you're not familiar with the details of the case, read about it here.

Now, here's Dory at Wittenberg Gate:

Terri Isn't Ill: She's Disabled.

Critics of the Schindler family and others who oppose Michael Schiavo's request to have food and water withheld from Terri Schindler Schiavo, sometimes ask, "Why not let this very ill woman die?" But Terri Schiavo is not ill. She is suffering from no disease. She is not being sustained by any machines. She is not receiving any medical treatment for any medical condition.

Terri Schiavo is not being kept alive artificially. She is merely being fed. She is not dying. She is disabled.

It is debatable whether Terri Schiavo even needs to be fed through a tube. Doctors have testified in court that there is every reason to believe that Terri may now be able to take food orally, or, if not, would relearn that skill with some therapy. She actually swallows her own saliva quite normally as you and I do. A simple test could assess Terri's ability to swallow food, but Michael Schiavo will not allow the test to be done. Nor will he allow the therapy to develop her eating skills should the test show she needs such therapy.

Nurses who have cared for Terri have testified that they secretly gave her liquids and gelatin by mouth. She enjoyed them very much. She had no trouble swallowing the food and drink.

Isn't it astounding that we could even contemplate standing about watching a woman die an agonizing death from dehydration and starvation when we haven't even checked to see if she can eat and drink by mouth?

In the books of the Old Testament prophets, God often sent words of judgment against the Gentile nations for their mistreatment of the poor. Do you have any doubt God is watching the Terri Schiavo case? I believe this case is a test for the nation. I've got a feeling that if we allow Terri Schiavo to die, then we as a nation--not just Michael Schiavo, not just the medical staff who watch her die, not just the courts, but the whole nation---will be answerable to God.

Terri Schiavo could have her feeding tube removed in the next few days. Let's pray for her--hard. Might this be a time for prayer and fasting?

John Piper on meaty preaching

Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical blog has a quote from John Piper on the need for meaty preaching.

The rich benefits of expository preaching

Michael Milton has a dynamite article on expository preaching in this month's issue of Preaching magazine (subcription required to read online articles). "Following Ben: Expository Preaching in the Pastoral Setting" describes eight benefits of expository preaching to church and minister. All eight are convincing, but number four is heart-moving:
Expository Preaching is the Power of the Pastorate Becuase it is Vocationally Satisfying

Let us not be gullible. Expository preaching fulfills God's purpose for our lives as preachers. He has called you to preach the Word, and you will never be happy until you go to that Word, live in that Word, exegete the meaning of that Word, dive like a Pacific native to the bottom of the ocean for the rich pearls of that Word, and then come back up from your time in the deep-blue of God's presence, string those pearls together in a sermon, and put them on the neck of your people.

Only a preaching method, a preaching approach, that is radically Word-centered, Christ-centered, Gospel-saturated, and uncompromisingly faithful to the text will give you joy. For you were made to preach.
Those words make me weep, even as I re-read them in putting together this post. I've had several different vocations in my life: teacher, writer, historical investigator. I've enjoyed all those jobs, some intensely. But I've never been able to relate to the heart-felt declarations of purpose from the devotees in any of those fields. I've heard some particularly moving descriptions from teachers on why we teach and writers on why we write. But as much as I feel passionately about the value of those pursuits, I've never been able to rise to the devotion of a true believer.

Then I found preaching. I don't think preaching is by any means the only calling from God. But it is mine. "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"

Full disclosure: I've recently been given a one-year complimentary subscription from the folks at Preaching. That doesn't mean I'll always say good things about the magazine, but it's certainly easier to be charitable to those who have been charitable to me. Michael Milton's article, however, would have been worth the cost of a subscription, as far as I'm concerned.

"Maintenance or Mission?"

Adam at Adventures in Following Jesus describes the choices facing churches:
Churches and those that lead them face a choice: Will they simply defensively maintain what they have (beliefs, forms, practices, members,etc.) or will we boldly press forward into our mission? Stated another way: Will their current identity define their mission or will their mission define their identity?
Is there anyone who's been in a church for any length of time who doesn't understand this dynamic? Preaching is at the forward point of this tension. For preachers, the selfish desires of our own hearts (and, often, those of other members) pull us toward maintenance. The Word of God, however, defines our mission.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Conformity and the Christian life

Here's Sunday's thought for the day, lifted in toto from Mike's House of Homiletical Hash:

If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity. - Bill Vaughan

So true. In a similar vein, Michael Spencer considers the tendency of Christians to force each other into pre-determined stereotypes:

Christians in America are increasingly falling into the stereotypical categories being created by the engines of the culture war, making it difficult for thoughtful people who resist categorization and do not fully identify with the polarizations of the culture war to be tolerated within evangelicalism or identified as "real Christians." In fact, the very categories themselves fail to accomodate the rich diversities and depths of the Biblical/Christian worldview.

Amen. As Christians, being transformed is not about falling into line with the pet beliefs of one's denomination or movement. It's nothing short of conforming to the image of Christ. Nothing short.

Keeping Christ the focus

Mark Loughridge offers some powerful stuff at 3:17:

Sometimes we can view Jesus as a measles jab. You get the jab and then you can get on with life.

Sometimes we can view Jesus as a burden, like a brother or a sister who is always watching you ready to report back on everything you do.

That is not how the Bible portrays the Christian life. If all we needed was a measles jab to vaccinate us against sin, God would have sent a giant syringe. If all we needed was to be watched - well he could do that anyway. But he sent his son, who became a human being. Why did he do that? Not just to identify with us which is important, and vital, but to let us know that God wants us to relate to him. You can't relate to an idea, or to a force, or to a syringe. But you can relate to a person. Ands that what we have with Jesus - a relationship. And I think that this is one area that we miss out on. We are so conditioned to think of becoming a Christian as a step, but it's a journey. We think of it as a starting point followed by a list of rules, but it isn't. It's a whole new relationship - with God the Son.

It's a long post--texts from three talks Mark gave at a young people's weekend. But it's good stuff.

Soul-winning sermons

Adrian Warnock continues posting homiletical nuggets from Charles Spurgeon. The latest is "Sermons Likely to Win Souls."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Twenty years of this guy?

Conrad Gempf has a great one-paragraph post with thought-provoking observations and questions about Samson.

The need for quiet and meditation

Rick at Serenity Through Hope has a post on "The Power of Biblical Meditation." Taking time out to meditate is a neglected art among Christians today, Rick notes:

What is meditation? It is reading the Bible, listening to God, and asking Him to speak to our hearts. It means making ourselves available to Him for instruction and growth. To meditate requires time, outside silence, and inner quiet - three things that many of us unfortunately do not believe we must give to God. We are spiritually anemic because we keep busy running from one activity to the next.

But, Rick explains, there are some pretty substantial benefits for us if we do take the time to slow down and face silence. The post is worth reading.

The Word of God is powerful not so much for filling our minds with proof texts, as for changing us more and more into men and women like Christ. That requires quiet and meditation, and it allows us to be filled with love, power, and joy.

Another good place on the net to experience a more meditative side of grace is Debra's As I See It Now.

Updated blogroll

In my continuing effort to link to everyone who links to TS, I've added the following sites to my blogroll:

Amy's Humble Musings, Espresso Roast, happy mills, invisible footprints, Jack Lewis, kramjam reiterates,, The Limitless, Mind and Soul, News for Christians, northern 'burbs blog, and sprucegoose. And, I've finally spelled Carpetbloggers correctly.

Also, Evangelical Underground's Fundamentals blogroll continues to grow on this and other pages.

If you've linked to this blog and would like a reciprocal link, please e-mail me or leave a comment on this post, and I'll be happy to add you.

Charges dismissed for "Philadelphia Four"

Christianity Today weblog reports that charges have been dropped against Michael Marcavage and Company. Ted Olsen's take on the whole thing is worth a look.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On misusing the Greek text

Several bloggers have noted that Thomas A. Howe of Southern Evangelical Seminary has begun a weblog. One of his articles, on the misuse of the Greek New Testament in preaching and teaching, is good reading for preachers, especially those without extensive training in languages. The articles require a name and e-mail address to register. Here's Dr. Howe:

Of all the misuses of the text, there is no more prevalent misuse than the misuse of the meanings of words. The words of the Greek New Testament are treated as magical entities that are supposed to contain the secretes of the meaning of the Bible. Evangelical Christians treat the Greek of the New Testament as if it were the meaning behind the meaning–much like the Catholic church in the Middle Ages with their allegorical meaning behind the literal meaning. More than frequently you will hear a preacher or a Bible teacher say something to the effect of, “The Greek word means . . .” Often the meaning that is given is either not significantly different from the word in your own translation, or it is some paragraph-long explanation.

Much of the article is devoted to exposing a relatively common misinterpretation of the different words for love in John 21:15-19. It's worth reading.

Christian laughter and comedy conference

A conference in Rome this week is examining laughter and comedy in the Bible and early church. In principle, at least, that's a good thing.

New Pentateuch translation

In this link, via CT, Martin Seiff reviews Robert Alter's new translation of Pentateuch:

What Mr. Alter has always understood is that the formative texts of the Old Testament are as rich in word-play and complex literary coding and style as any of William Shakespeare's greatest plays and that the ultimate challenge of any translator ought to be to convey all that subtle and precise richness and elegance of style into English -- or any other language.

In his earlier books he repeatedly emphasized, following the pioneering German language studies of Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, the importance of leitmotifs, or recurring key words, in the Hebrew text. Even the ubiquitous simple Hebrew phrase "v" -- literally meaning "and" but also carrying many other potential meanings such as "then" or "next", depending on context -- had its significance erased because so many generations of translators were determined to "tidy up" the biblical text and thereby ironed out thousands of subtle but clearly intended meanings.

Dr. Alter is the author of two books that bring the literature of the Old Testament to life: The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative.

Another preacher dies in the pulpit

This time, it was a preacher in Virginia. This article comes by way of Christianity Today's Weblog.

The need for preaching--not just sermons

John at Blogotional laments, " I miss preaching. I mean I really miss it. I hear a lot of sermons anymore, but very little preaching." John offers counsel for preachers to proclaim the gospel in transforming ways: by being relational with the congregation, staying anchored in the commonplace, and being truly devoted to God.

Notes on the battle

Respectable Christians (including most of us in the "computer classes") need to remember that we're in the middle of a war zone. That's why its good to see some insightful posts lately about spiritual warfare.

RazorsKiss has a full-bore exegesis of Eph. 6:10-20. My favorite excerpt:

Wrestling, if you’ve ever done it, is all about quickness, deception, and trickery. In a word - it is the home turf of Satan. It is also very, very, very close combat. Nose to nose. With trickery, we counter with righteousness. With deception, we counter with Truth.

For breathless excitement in digging into a passage, Joshua is definitely tops.

Pruitt Communications draws on Terry's military experience in Germany to discuss Christian engagement with forces of darkness in the culture. In reading Terry's post, I'm reminded of two slightly different meanings of "engagement": one peaceful, one not:

. . . many of us want to engage our culture and not be at war with the culture. We want to be friendly and talk with the culture and transform the culture by letting them see love. However, the culture we seek to engage often does not want us to play by those rules. While we are approaching them, we come without weapons and without animosity. However, those who we would approach have set up fortifications, they have made use of every natural obstacle and created man made obstacles. They not only have made obstacles, they refuse us any space to regroup, rest or approach them.

These obstacles, Terry explains, include "off-limits" topics, concepts of privacy, and subsections of society associating Christianity with the most personally disparate subsections of the church:

While we do not want to have a war mentality when we engage the culture, the culture may have other ideas about how they want the church to behave. The culture may be more happy for us to bring signs of peace and friendship while they exploit our good graces. We should not return evil for evil but we must beware that our kindness may be used as a weapon against us if we are not wise. I am not suggesting that the church should become a fortress . . . We are now in various ways attempting to reach out, but we must be wise in how we go about it. While we are thinking of strategies to cross the gap that has developed between the church and our culture, our opponents are thinking of strategies of how they can keep us distanced from the culture. Remember they have been winning ground for years and do not want to give any of it back.

Non-Christians are not necessarily deliberate in their efforts to thwart Christian evangelism. The powers and principalities definitely are.

Rich content at Preaching Now

This week's edition of Preaching Now has been posted. Highlights:

"Preaching and the Supremacy of God" spotlights John Piper's sermon on the superficiality of our culture. Piper quotes A. W. Tozer:

God is the main reality in the universe; the sustaining power of everything that is. Therefore, any time you treat anything without relation to God, you are being superficial. The fact that this sounds odd to us shows how infected American evangelicals are in this God-neglecting, God-belittling and increasingly God-despising age.

The article includes a link to Piper's full sermon.

There's also a summary and link to a Washington Post article on "sermon building teams," along with a number of sermon illustrations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Jesus is not our boy

The longer Christians stay in the church, the more I think we need to be reminded that Jesus never quite fits the boxes we try to build for him. Michael Spencer expressed this aspect of Jesus recently while teaching Mark 4. Jesus, Michael pointed out, could be a frustrating teacher:

I told them that Jesus is a SUBVERSIVE teacher. He has a big picture agenda, and he knows the whole picture is coming with death/rez/ascension/Holy Spirit. For now, he is overturning their concept of the Kingdom of God. Showing that it isn't what they thought it was. Showing that it is a mystery...a secret....until you know who Jesus is and what he is doing. If you want an outline, a math problem or all the answers for the test, Jesus isn't your guy. He's like John Keating in Dead Poet's Society. He is subverting the establishment. Letting loose a kind of "new wine" that can't be contained in the old wineskins. He has a "secret," a "mystery" that he gives to those who come the risky route of faith.

I like the energy of Michael's writing here---it reminds me of Conrad Gempf.

In a similar vein, Christianity Today has a review of The Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth. Reviewer Jeremy Lott suggests that some of the mystery of the person of Jesus was intentionally cultivated by the Gospel writers.

Online exegetical notes on John 3:1-17

If you're doing lectionary preaching, you ought to check the exegetical notes on John 3:1-17 at the textweek weblog. Jenee Woodard has brought together trenchant excerpts from six different sources into one manageable post. For fuller, more extensive resources on John 3:1-17, see this page in The Text This Week. The Textweek scripture index is always a first stop for expository preaching.

Online course on expository preaching

Adrian Warnock's blog has a link to an online course from Mark Dever on expositional preaching. I've clicked through the course and it's outstanding: short, pithy lessons on why and how, along with example sermons from Dr. Dever. It's a great course for preachers beginning their homiletical training, and helpful as a brush-up for experienced preachers. A-plus all the way around. Thanks for the link, Adrian.

Preaching with passion, force, and tenderness

Adrian Warnock has a post, rich with the words of Charles Spurgeon, on speaking the truth with tenderness. Here's Spurgeon:

When you preach, speak out straight, but be very tender about it; and if there is an unpleasant thing to be said, take care that you put it in the kindest possible form.

We need to remember both sides of proclaiming the truth: speak tenderly, but still tell the unpleasant truth.

Adrian also has a quote from Spurgeon on preaching the gospel "with passion and force."

Text and audio of "My King"

Mark Loughridge at 3:17 has posted the text and audio link to Dr. S.M. Lockridge's classic sermon, "My King." I was introduced to this sermon in a homiletics class, where Dr. Lockridge's words were coupled with a rapid-fire slide show that attempted to depict each image as Dr. Lockridge spoke it. I like the plain audio much better; it leaves the visual images to our own imaginations, encouraging us to be participants in, rather than consumers of, the Word.

Weekly homiletical tidbit -- Urban legends

Mike Russell highlights an urban legend now making the rounds about 400 Christians who miraculously survived the recent Indian Ocean tsunami. To his credit, Mike passed the story along with appropriate notice that he could not vouch for its veracity (and after doing some research, he posted to say that it appears to be fictional).

Don't you wish all preachers were that careful? Many of us, it seems, are not very scrupulous about checking the veracity of our stories before proclaiming them from the pulpit--a medium requiring far more caution than a weblog. Where I live, to say that an account is "a preacher's story" means it's probably not true. That's sad.

It's relatively easy to check the truthfulness of stories like the tsunami legend. There are several good sites that investigate urban legends. My favorite is Urban Legends Reference Pages, better known as Snopes. com. The site is easy to use, the "What's New" section is timely, and the writing displays not only sharp minds, but good senses of humor.

Blogs are one thing; pulpits are another. Before we preach an urban legend, let's do our homework.

New theology aggregator

Mike Russell, at the suggestion of Adrian Warnock, has started a new theology aggregator. Transforming Sermons is honored to be among the contributors, and there's a link to the new aggregator on this page.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The culture: engagement or accommodation?

Amy's Humble Musings has some trenchant observations about Christian influence on society. The problem is not a lack of Christian engagement in the world, Amy says, but rather Christian accommodation to the world:

The reason that our country is marching happily down the Wide Way to hell is not because Christians have withdrawn their influence from popular culture, but precisely because Christians are engaged in popular culture and there is no difference.

Christians do not need to get off their comfy couches and “get out there and make a difference.” It would be nice if it were that easy. No, in order to begin making a difference, Christians must begin the process by being different. And that requires a lot more than just getting off the couch.


Rightly interacting with the Scriptures

In my essay on biblical environmentalism, I may be guilty of what Michael Spencer calls "grocery list" interpretation. Michael makes an excellent case for understanding the Bible by looking at whole books, not just individual verses.

Biblical environmentalism: a first cut

In response to posts at Parableman, SmartChristian, and Blogotional, I've outlined a biblically based environmentalism at my blog for longer posts, To the Word. Here's a summary: the problem is greed; the solution is the Kingdom of God.

Moses, Elijah, and the church

Peter Leithart has a concise article showing narrative parallels related to water and food in the lives of Moses, Elijah, and Christians today. It's worth reading.

"Criminalization of Christianity"

CBN has an article on the "Philadelphia 11," some of whom are charged with felonies for a counter-demonstration at a homosexual event in October 2004. Those sympathetic with members of Repent America frame the case as Christians charged with hate crimes for preaching the gospel. This link, by the way, comes by way of Evangelical Underground.

News from the Christian blogosphere

I try to limit my blogging about blogging, but here are a couple of events worth noting.

Ales Rarus and Blogotional are the latest winners of the Warnie Award for Christian blogging. Way to go, folks!

GodBlogCon 2005, a nationwide gathering of Christian bloggers, is planned for October in California.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Principles of biblical environmentalism coming Monday

Prompted perhaps by Bill Moyers' recent smear of evangelical Christians, several Christian bloggers, including Parableman, SmartChristian, and Blogotional, are now addressing the issue of Christian enviromentalism. This issue has always been an interest of mine. Before attending seminary I worked for nine years in environmental consulting, and a couple of years ago I developed an outline for a book on a truly biblical environmentalism. Tomorrow I'll be posting about those principles at my other blog, To the Word.

Speaking with a new and authentic voice

Brad at 21st Century Reformation comes down against cultural tyranny in the ongoing debate about worship styles. The church, he says, should not romaticize worship styles of previous generations:

When we do this, we alienate the present generation and rob them of their opportunity to speak with their own voice. True spiritual renewal and authentic beauty only comes from a free heart that expresses transcendent values of the gospel in their own voice. Jesus Christ is Lord of all the nations and has redeemed all nations and all generations to speak their praise from their heart.

At the same time, Brad says, the church is not called to blow with the winds of an entertainment-oriented culture:

To call the church back to the artifacts of a past glory is a false method and is circumventing the hard work of church renewal. Imitation of the entertainment of the world is likewise a cheap substitution for authentic and spirit filled worship. Neither the return to the past nor the water-down saccharine imitation of the world’s entertainment can replace the inspired artistic creations of a Spirit led church. It is from the moral excellence of a community that is both living the story of the redemtive community of Christ and that is filled with the liberty of the Spirit that is needed. Such a communtity will then create the artifacts that speak to a generation with a new and authentic voice. Anything else is just cheap, impotent, imitation worship.


New life of the heart

John at Scotwise speaks this week about new life in Christ. That life is much more, he notes, than simply behaving ourselves better:

CULTURE and REFINEMENT and outward correctness of life will not take the place of the New Birth. The trouble is not merely with our outward life; the trouble is in the heart, in the deepest depths of our inward life. Our attempt to simply reform our outward life will not save us.

Suppose I had a rotten apple, I could take it to an artist and have him paint it until it was the most beautiful looking apple on canvas that you ever saw, and then have him coat it with varnish; but it would just be rotten to the core as ever. One bite into it would be a bite of decay. The trouble is that without Jesus Christ, you are wide of the mark in the heart.

Changing our behavior is so much easier than changing our heart. That's why heart change is God's work. Our job is to quit fighting and cooperate with the process.

Swedish preacher acquitted

A Swedish appeals court has overturned the hate speech conviction of Ake Green, convicted in a lower court of hate crimes for preaching that homosexuality is "a cancer on the fact of society."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Latest Romans sermon text now posted

At my other blog I've just posted the text of my latest sermon from the series on Romans. This one, Rom. 15:5-13, is titled "The God of Encouragement, Endurance, and Hope."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Weekly homiletical tidbit -- The palliative lie

Lately I've been thinking about how much otherwise honest people will lie when telling the truth runs against being nice. Someone has called this kind of thing a "palliative lie," a statement with the benefit of making the hard facts easier to swallow, but with the disadvantage of being untrue. You know what I'm talking about, and the list is long: "Of course you look pretty in that dress, honey," "I'm fine," "No, I'm not angry."

The palliative lie should probably have no place in the life of a Christian. Lying is the devil's domain (Jn. 8:44). No matter how much we want to be nice, we should be willing to do the hard work of respecting others' feelings without lying to them. For a wonderful, life-changing treatment of honesty in everyday life, see Donaldson and Wamberg's Pinocchio Nation.

One thing is certain: No lie, even sweet little palliative ones, have any place in the pulpit. Preachers of the Word have been entrusted with proclaiming The Truth (Jn 14:6). The gospel doesn't need a cup of sugar to make it go down easier. Let's remember the words of John, the Apostle of Truth: "No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth" (3 Jn. 1:4).

The Ark as a symbol of the incarnation

Prof. Conrad Gempf offers these meditations on Joshua 3 & 4, where the Israelites carry the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordon into the Promised Land:

Now, in Joshua, the business gets done by this holy box of gold. I thought we were trying to get away from God in a box.

And yet, there's an important spiritual lesson being taught to Israel by the Ark. The priests stand with the Box in the middle of the river. Often when you have something golden and valuable, you'd make sure that it was exposed to danger as little as possible. You'd rush it across. Am I reading too much in to it when I see a metaphor of the Incarnation? God shows that he's going to be present with his people. He'll demonstrate his power not just by hovering transcendently above it all but by being down on the ground -- the one who deliberately plants himself at the center of the problem and stays there until we've all safely scurried across.

I had never seen it that way before.

Believing before you have to

In a book review of Peter Golding's Why Does Being a Christian Have to be so Hard?, Mark Loughridge quotes from NT scholar Don Carson on why it's important to have a Christian worldview in place before trials come along. Carson has said his reason for writing How Long, Oh Lord was to create a spiritual prophylactic to help in those times, sooner or later, when we do "get kicked in the teeth."

When we suffer greatly--from death and loss, danger, severe illness, whatever--scriptural truths are probably not going to help much unless we have learned to take comfort in them before trauma arrives.

That's the value of biblical preaching in the church. Slowly, through repetition and reinforcement, we help our brothers and sisters build a truly Christian outlook. That outlook brings with it confidence, strength, joy, and love.

The end of preaching and discipleship

Alex at dulcius ex asperis comments on the theology of Joel Osteen's preaching. While I'm not taking sides on that particular issue, Alex raises a point critical to preaching and Christian discipleship in general. The tendency of fallen human beings is to want to appropriate God as a means to our ends. That is heresy, and it is precisely the problem Alex finds in Mr. Osteen's preaching:

The problem . . . is not so much that he doesn’t preach the Gospel as he instrumentalizes God. And he isn’t the first one. There is a significant stream of Christian tradition that runs up through much of modern-day evangelicalism that does exactly this. Jesus is offered as a cure for all the ills of mankind. Is your marriage in shambles? Well, just “give your life to Jesus” and He’ll fix everything. Are you wasting away from cancer? Pray harder to Jesus and He’ll heal you.

For many of us pragmatic Americans, we are concerned with the how rather than the who. . . . We already know who is important: it’s me. We want to know now how this “me” can fulfill itself. In Osteen’s gospel, Jesus is entirely peripheral. Sure, he might have sound doctrinal statements buried deep within the digital recesses of his website somewhere; but these things and the Person they point to are entirely peripheral. Anything that pushes Jesus to the margins is a heresy.

What can we do about it? Here's Alex:

We must start asking the question of who first over the how. . . . The priority of who means that we must be willing to get into messy, unpredictable and painful relationships, especially in the case of our Triune God. Because He is the end. He is our great reward and our true happiness.


Are the feds monitoring your preaching?

Randy Steele, preacher at the Southwest Christian Church in Mount Vernon, Illinois, was recently visited by FBI agents inquiring about a sermon he had preached several months earlier. The sermon was about abortion, and at one point, according to Mr. Steele, he asserted "that we are in a different type of war that is being fought under the presupposition of freedom." After talking with Mr. Steele, the agents found nothing further to investigate. Their appearance, however, left the preacher wondering how the FBI became involved in the first place. No one in the congregation, he said, expressed any reservations about the sermon at the time:

"The thing that bothers me the most about this whole thing is that right now the pulpits in America are pretty open to attack," Steele said. "If somebody wants to call in and make an accusation against a minister for preaching the gospel and call it hate crime they can do it."

In Sweden last year, a preacher was jailed for speaking out against homosexuality. But it couldn't happen here--right?

Pharisees and the heart of the matter

Rowland Croucher has an article at John Mark Ministries on Pharisees, ancient and modern.

Disentangling discipleship from idolatry

Randy McRoberts offers a few thoughts on what it means to be evangelical. His post is noteworthy in disentangling the idea of Christian discipleship from idolatrous devotion to country, or even to the cross as a religious object. Also, in the "Scripture Resources" section of this page I've added a link to Randy's exegetical resources.

Randy's post, I should point out, is an elaboration of this post by Ryan Wetzel.

From the homiletic hash house

This quote comes from Mike Murdock's blog:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. - Antoine De Saint Exupery


"Spiritual Bait and Switch"

Dory has a powerful post at Wittenberg Gate: "Righteousness or Elitism? A Spiritual Bait and Switch." Here's an excerpt:

Do we sometimes fall for spiritual bait and switch? The redeemed soul longs for God and longs for righteousness. When we go out and search for it, the hungry soul can sometimes be fooled. Some churches, some authors, some Christian teachers tell us they are offering us righteousness or holiness, but what they really offer is elitism and pride.

It's great stuff, worth reading.

The wonder of the good news

As a preacher, I'm tempted to reduce the gospel to nothing more than steps for personal salvation. While this is certainly part of the gospel (perhaps even a neglected part), it does not express the good news in its fullest. Jesus is saving us from hell, yes. But he is also saving us to heaven, a Kingdom in which we will be in the presence of God, joyful eternally. And God is shaping us, transforming us right now in preparation for the day of resurrection. Something in the modern mind wants to formularize the life of the Spirit, to change the awesome power and mystery of Almighty God into something manageable and safe. Adam Ellis, quoting Gregory of Nicea in the last two sentences, expresses this idea in his article, "The Offense of Certainty":

What violence have we done to scripture and to God's dream when we reduce it to little iron-clad formulas? What damage have we done to the Way when we reduce the Gospel to steps one follows so that God has to take them? Concepts create idols. Only wonder understands.

There are many things we can be sure about: We are sinners (Rom. 3:23), but God loves us (1 Jn. 3:1) and calls us to repent (Acts 2:38). Christians are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8), and God wants us to grow more and more into the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 12:2). The gospel is simple, yes. But it is infinitely deep. To the lost it is the call to come home. To the saved, it is the power to grow up.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

On staying close to the Scriptures

In his new blog, Kevin Barr gives a personal example of why it's important to keep the Scriptures central to our proclamation of Jesus Christ. I'm not familiar with the evangelist he writes about, but the guy's technique sounds right on target:

P. Dino is an amazing guy, and the words he shared were so piercing, and so true, and it was the kind of speaking that you can't sit there and argue in your head saying "well he's just a guy, this is his thought or opinion, he's not necessarily right" every single thing he had to say was lined with The Bible, and he made sure to give scripture reference to pretty much everything he said. So when he said something sharp, and challenging, when he backed it up with The Bible, I was left sitting there thinking "oh", just speechless before God, as these words were breaking me.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Putting faith into action

This blog is about the Word of God, not politics. But after linking to a National Review article earlier in the day (albeit about sin & evil, not politics), I'm giving a few lines to an article from the March 2005 issue of Sojourners (Note: free registration is required to view the original). Elizabeth Palmberg writes on the Micah Challenge, an effort by evangelicals to put into practice the call of Micah 6:8:

He has showed you O man, what is good; and what does Jehovah require of you, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Palmberg notes that social action in the name of Jesus Christ has fallen out of favor among evangelicals:

In recent decades, evangelical Christians have been known more for individual piety than for heeding the prophets’ call for justice for the needy. The Micah Challenge, a new worldwide coalition of evangelical churches and relief groups, aims to change that - and to seize today’s unprecedented opportunity to put a serious dent in global poverty. . . .

The Micah Network aims to mobilize Christians to affect national governments in the global North and South, as well as international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and transnational corporations.

What does this have to do with preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ? For Christians, after all, social justice is not an end in itself. Stated bluntly, it's little consolation that someone live a more just or comfortable life if they spend eternity in hell. For this reason, proclaiming the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is central to the church's mission.

But the Kingdom of God is more than a sinner's prayer, a quick wash in baptism, and a life of individual morality. The Kingdom is the reign of the one whose coming to earth meant that "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them" (Luke 7:22).

Promoting justice and relief in the name of Jesus Christ is a manifestation of the Kingdom of God. By helping others we learn to look beyond ourselves and overcome the temptation to obsess over the progress of our individual discipleship. Helping the needy and oppressed is extending the grace of Jesus Christ. In these ways we serve Jesus by serving "the least of these my brethren" (Mt. 25:40).

A visit to the storage room

I created a new blog today, primarily to store pictures for this one. If you're interested in knowing a little more about who I am, you can also read a short vita there.

Observations on Joshua 1

Conrad Gempf has some insightful thoughts today on the community ideal expressed in Joshua 1:

It's not about finding those bits of spirituality that are relevant to my life; it's about rearranging my life to make it relevant to God's word and truth. Maybe church doesn't need to work at being less boring. Maybe I need to work to keep myself involved and interested.


What really matters

Razor's Kiss has a review today of Francis Schaeffer's The Great Evangelical Disaster. RK focuses on the first chapter, where Schaeffer asks, "What Really Matters?" The answer is in Matt. 22:37-40. In addition to trenchant quotes from Schaeffer, RK brings his own comments to bear on the topic. It's worth a look.

The reality of evil

Jonah Goldberg reminds us that monsters do exist. Parents who abuse and starve their children, priests who sexually molest children under their care--these are the monsters of our day. Yet today, Goldberg notes, we have tamed monsters into "cute and cuddly beasts" a la Monsters Inc. Here's Jonah:

A lovable monster is a very new concept because, first and foremost, monsters are about evilness . . . . it shouldn't surprise anyone that our understanding of what monsters are has evolved. The problem, it seems to me, is that not all evolution is synonymous with improvement. About a decade ago, Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco wrote an elegant book, The Death of Satan, in which he argued that America had lost the ability to speak in terms of evil. He called it a "tragedy of the imagination," and he was right.

For decades, a therapeutic culture of "understanding" was on the rise. Except for acts of racism and so-called homophobia, there was a mad rush to "understand" evil people. . . .

The tragedy of the imagination was that we couldn't appreciate that evil is real and it exists. In a society where everyone is a victim and it's not right to "judge" others, there's just not much room left for real monsters, while society itself becomes monstrous.

I found my way to this article, by the way, via Instapundit. Goldberg's article may appear in a politically oriented publication, but all Christians, of whatever political bent, do well to remember the reality of evil. Only when we acknowledge the power of sin and evil does the light of the good news of Jesus Christ shine most brightly.

Lenten meditations from Doug Floyd

Here are some thoughts on Ash Wednesday, from Doug Floyd's first Lenten e-mail. Doug begins by facing just how awful the world can be--war, genocide, and self-centered denial:

How can we ever really face the magnitude of suffering and evil in this world? Some may choose to ignore it for as long as possible, living a life of hedonistic delight as the world burns around them. Others may deny any ultimate significance to the material world, suggesting it is all an illusion or all subject to destruction anyway. One popular approach is to suggest that everything is some part of divine life: of course, this carries with it the disturbing notion that evil and good are equally divine.

Is it possible things are not the way they are supposed to be? Is it possible the longing we have in our hearts for goodness and truth and beauty are intuitive longings for a world that might have been or might still be?

During January our congregation of less than 150 lost three members to death. People try to be helpful to the bereaved by saying things like, "Well, it's God's will." I don't believe it. Things are not the way they are supposed to be. God did not intend for us to die, but sin entered life through disobedience, and now the whole world has fallen under the tyranny of death. Here's Doug again:

The strange and often misunderstood story of Jesus suggests that God does not ignore evil but takes the pain and power of it onto Himself. Jesus comes to tell Israel that their God has come to dwell among them in a way they never could have imagined. He will become the suffering servant. He will take the pain and hurt and very real anguish of this evil world onto Himself. In so doing, He will make a way for humans to become truly human: truly beings shaped and fully revealed in the beauty of perfect love.

Christians have no real hope in this world, but we do hope in Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul said, "If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). Life through the grace of Jesus Christ: that's good news, and that's what we proclaim.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Review online of "What's the Matter with Preaching Today?"

The Christian Century has posted a review of What's the Matter with Preaching Today? The book is edited by Mike Graves, with contributions from Thomas G. Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Cleophus J. Larue, Marva J. Dawn, Fred Craddock, David Buttrick, Anna Carter Florence, Eugene L. Lowry, David Bartlett, and Ernest T. Campbell. My favorite line from the CC review: Not brilliance but bravery is called for as preachers publicly wrestle with the overwhelming questions listeners face alone at night.

New edition of "Preaching Now"

This week's edition of Preaching Now has been posted. There are a couple of useful items in addition to a number of illustrations (some more fresh than others).

The National Conference on Preaching, for example, will feature Will Willimon, H. Beecher Hicks, Ray Ortlund Jr., and others April 18-20, 2005, in Nashville.

The article excerpt on preaching weddings is worth reading.

There's also a thought-provoking meditation by Fleming Rutledge on Jesus' words about thirst in John's Gospel. Rutledge notes the contrast between Jesus' saying "I'm thirsty" on the cross (Jn. 19:28) and his earlier teaching that "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (Jn. 7:27, 38). The article notes the irony in these statements but doesn't go into the significance, in that contrast, of water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in John 7.

Jesus Christ and him crucified

David Smith has some valid observations about Peter's Pentecost sermon in Acts 2. First among them is that Jesus Christ and him crucified is at the heart of Christian preaching. Here's David:

It is no gospel that does not focus on him who is the heart of the "good news" of Christian faith, Jesus Christ. However, much of what flies the flag of "Christian faith" today is little more than some sort of baptized humanism. Be careful what you listen to and measure all you hear by God's word.

Amen, and amen!

The need to keep preaching

Lately I've suffered such a blow in my ministry that I've given thought to going back into another line of work. But I won't. I really think if I couldn't tell the good news of Jesus Christ I would just die--maybe shrivel up, maybe blow up from trying to hold it all in. I can relate to the words of Jeremiah, for whom the Word of the Lord was a fire in the bones (Jer. 20:9), or to Paul, who said, "Woe to me if I don't preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). If those sentiments in my own heart weren't enough, I found more reason to keep preaching today in Ezekiel 33:6:

"But if the watchman sees the sword come, and doesn't blow the trumpet, and the people aren't warned, and the sword comes and takes anyone from among them--he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand."

Years ago I heard a veteran country preacher say that as a young man he decided if he couldn't find anyone to listen to his preaching, he'd go down to the creek and preach to the minnows and salamanders. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about. Well--how things do change.

Wimp nation

One of the banes of American Christians, I think, is that somewhere along the way we have come be believe that discipleship equals timidity. Albert Mohler, in a Christian review of a recent Psychology Today article, asks "Are We Raising a Nation of Wimps?" Thanks to Rusty Peterman, whose own blog referred me to Dr. Mohler's review. The original Psychology Today article is available here.

Good quote today at Preaching magazine

Today's illustration at Preaching magazine is this quote:

"When the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first." (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Most of the online articles at Preaching require a subscription, but the daily illustrations are short, pithy, and free.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Evangelical Blog Awards announced

The EBAs winners have been announced over at Evangelical Underground. Mark Roberts won in the category TS was nominated in--no shame in losing to Mark's strong writing. There are some good blogs there on the winner's list. They're worth a look.

Is love really all you need?

Brodie McGregor writes on the ubiquitous idea that "all you need is love." We're in danger today, Brodie says, of worshipping love rather than God:

But hold on I hear you cry, 1 John 4:8 says that 'God is love'. This is very true, but that is quite a different thing from saying that 'love is God.'

Turning the equation around has serious consequences. Equating love with God causes us to try to shape God in our own flawed image:

It conforms to our agenda, rather than to the in breaking kingdom of God.

I take no position on the political conclusions Brodie draws in his essay, but his observations on the need for Christians to identify with love as manifested in Jesus Christ are bang-on target.

The holiness of God through 21st century eyes

In his comments on Exodus 13 & 14, Prof. Conrad Gempf struggles with the difficulty of reconciling the destruction of Egyptian forces in the sea with the view of a loving and merciful God. From a pesonal standpoint, Conrad points out, this kind of violence can be a little hard for to take these days:

I can even get by, I suppose, with the destruction to property that God causes with the chariot wheels getting jammed or falling off (14:25). But killing them all? Sweeping them all out to sea? After the plague that killed all their first born infants (like Herod seeking the Christ child)? And repeating over and over again that 'he will gain glory through Pharoah and all his army'? You and I were not built for that time in the history of civilisation, nor, I suspect, do we fear God as much as we might. Whatever Lewis tells us in Narnia, we want him to be a tame lion. He isn't.

Conrad has a gift for seeing the text with new eyes and a sharp mind. He can ask the tough questions, but still hold by faith, it seems, to the wisdom of God.

Warnie aggregator now online

There's a new Warnie aggregator for recipients of the Warnie award for Christian blogging. The site contains links from previous winners (including Transforming Sermons), along with incisive posts from Warnie creator Adrian Warnock's own blog.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Preaching and church discipline

Bravo to Shrode over at Thinklings Weblog, Shrode writes on church discipline-- the need for it and the lack of it in most churches today:

I’m not saying this because I think people ought to be punished more or because I’m blood-thirsty. I’m bringing this up because I think the modern church has fallen victim to the world’s definition of love. To the world, love = being nice. But Biblical love just isn’t that way. Biblical love means glorifying God through your treatment of others. Allowing people to wallow in their own sin, self-deceived, isn’t love. It’s hate.

Preachers have a special burden in calling sin sin, especially within the church. Here's Shrode again:

If we are not willing to call sinners to repent, and back it up with discipline for the purpose of restoring them to relationship with God and men, then we don’t really love our brothers and sisters in Christ.


The virtue of criticism

The Internet Monk has a thorough, well-reasoned essay on the value of Christian criticism. For a variety of reasons, too many Christians fear to direct any criticism at all within the church, notes author Michael Spencer. He points out, however, that living according to a Christian worldview requires a critical eye to what is happening both outside and inside the church:

The entire Prophetic tradition is a kind of criticism. I call the prophets "the cops of the covenant," because it is their job to show up and write Israel a ticket from time to time. It's their job to warn and nag, as well as assure and promise. The covenant life is the play God wrote, and the prophets are critics. They criticize ideas, people, worship services, politics and culture. They are not writing for applause, but telling the truth from the highly biased point of view of those who see the world and all that is in it belonging to Yahweh. They use humor, sarcasm, blunt description and highly charged, emotional prose. They are critics in the best, and holiest, sense of the term.

The role of critic is not limited to the Old Testament, and did not stop on the pages of the New. Here's Michael again:

Jesus himself is a critic. Now I won't be numbskulled enough to say that gives me the right to be a critic, because obviously Jesus has a superior point of view to my own. But it is impossible for me to conclude that, once I know the viewpoint of Jesus on, let's say, rich and successful religious braggarts, I can't apply it in my writing.

The essay is directed specifically to evangelicals, but most of Michael’s observations speak equally well to Christians in other traditions. Good stuff.

Changing the evangelistic metaphor

Spencer Burke, founder of The Ooze, writes on the benefits of changing the metaphor of evangelism from evangelist as warrior to evangelist as gardner. He makes a pretty good case. The point I found most interesting, albeit not necessarily the central one for Burke, is here:

Is the Gospel about me … or is it about God? That’s the tension. As people begin to unpackage their faith, they’re starting to question whether there’s more to the Gospel message than just atonement. Is it about Jesus saving people, or Jesus setting up His Kingdom? People are hungering for a story that’s bigger than them—one that stretches beyond human effort and includes the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

Burke deals with a point critical to the North American church. Evangelism that focuses on strictly personal salvation (particularly up to the point of conversion) feeds the extreme individualism that destroys communities and impoverishes souls in our culture. Such an individualistic mindset is particularly destructive to the church, which God means to be a community so integrated as to function as a single human organism. If I look at church strictly as a means for getting me saved, I miss out on the fact that God is not just saving individual souls, he's building a kingdom. The challenge for preachers, particularly those of us steeped in democratic individualism, is to learn what Kingdom means, and proclaim it.

Burke's article, by the way, comes to TS via The Pastor's Buzz.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Free subscriptions to Preaching magazine?

The latest edition of Preaching Now is overdue, leading me to believe they may still be offering free subscriptions to Preaching for young preachers. The offer of 100 free subscriptions for preachers under 40 was supposed to expire February 1, but the form to get a free subscription is still online (Saturday morning).