Thursday, March 31, 2005

Thank you, Terri

What light shines from Terri Schiavo's ordeal? Bruce Harpel at Sprucegoose offers some valuable insights. I've taken the liberty of quoting his entire post here:
The End of Terri Schiavo

First of all, and last of all, I would like to thank Terri for adding so much humanity to America. Through your suffering you have awoken much of the sleeping church. What could not be done by legislation, protest, and other non-violent means, you have accomplished through your 15 year long ordeal. The fruit of your suffering is beginning to be harvested and the effect will change the landscape of America for years to come. Your face will always be before us. I am deeply indebted to you. Your life was not in vain.

To Terri's parents and sister and brother, your aches are shared by millions. The welling up of tears in our eyes speaks of your love and faithfulness. The lump in our throat and the dull pain in our hearts is nothing compared to your hurt. We are sorry. We are sorry we could not or did not do more. We are sorry that God chose to not answer your prayers and we know that reminding you of the greater good has little solace in it. We too sat and watched a government that was paralyzed by inaction and double mindedness. You are our hero's. Your nobility in living within the law and not being a law unto yourself was a learned lesson. Your simple focus on what was important and not on the side issues of hate or rage taught us well.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I weep. But as I weep I am encouraged that the fallen ethics and morals underneath the facade of this country have finally been exposed.

Now we can choose to take action or go back to sleep. Please pray for us.
I hope and pray Bruce is right that the moral landscape in America will be changed (for the better). If you've been moved by Bruce's words, please let him know at Sprucegoose.

Rusty Peterman update

Rusty Peterman, recovering from a recent stroke, has been moved to an inpatient rehab facility. Rusty has "a tough road ahead, "according to his son, Chris, "but our faith will pay off...thank you for your prayers." Let's keep praying for Rusty, his family, and those working to bring about his recovery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Away message

I'll be away from the computer for the next three days. In the mean time, maybe you'll find some of todays items of interest. I look forward to being back with you again Friday!

Are we proud of our messiness?

Robin Lee Hatcher offers some trenchant observations about "messy" Christians:
I'm distressed by what seems to be a trend of Christian believers reveling in their messiness, in their imperfections, holding them up as a sort of badge of honor or something. Almost enjoying the fact that they are so much like those who don't know God. What's with that? What's with picking and choosing what we will accept out of the Bible, as if our freedom in Christ gives us the right to say to God, "That doesn't fit into my politics (or whatever) so I'm going to ignore it"?

My Bible tells me that as Christ's disciple I am to become more and more conformed to the image of God's Son. I'm told I'm being changed from glory to glory. I'm told that I'm not yet what I should be but, thank God, I'm not what I used to be. The New Testament is pretty clear about a lot of things a child of God should/must do and another list of things a child of God shouldn't/mustn't do. Most of those things aren't subject to interpretation. They're quite clear. So when we read them and know we aren't doing what we should do and/or that we are doing what we shouldn't do, shouldn't we be on our knees, asking God to change us?
I think we should.

Hat tip: John Schroeder at Blogotional.

Story of the Bible

Jim West at Biblical Theology has brought my attention to the new book by Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan: Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages. I've not read this particular work, but Dr. Pelikan has a gift for making the details of church history and doctrine come alive.

On being American and Christian

Bill at Wallo World has a long and thoughtful post on being American and Christian. Bill's essay covers a lot of ground, but I think he articulates the central issue very concisely:
These questions all bring me back around to this point: being an American is not incompatible with Christianity. But Christ must be placed before nationality in order to establish a truly Christ-centered vision. Which term modifies the other becomes very important. Not to mention that they might lead to very different results.
Very different results.

One sacrifice is enough

At As I See It Now Debra writes about holding onto guilt. Have you ever asked God for forgiveness and promised to work harder in return? Debra has, and realizes it's a misguided response:
Good grief. I used to do that all the time, never realizing it was a downright insult to God. I mean, here He'd gone and sent His son to die for me, yet I was still, thousands of years later, making my own sacrifices for my own sins. Still paying for the ones I committed most often.

I didn't realize that either Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was enough--or it wasn't. I didn't realize that I'd become proficient at turning conviction from God into ugly, bat-over-the-head condemnation.
Debra's words hit a chord with me. For years I struggled with not feeling forgiven. I often said, "I know God has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself." Finally, I read something that changed me. The writer basically said, "Who are you to be so arrogant as to hold something against yourself that God has forgiven?" And a light came on. God has forgiven me through Jesus Christ. And that's all that matters.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The world is new

It's never too late for Resurrection devotions, and Bob has written a beautiful one at Mr. Standfast. Here's a longer essay from Charles Lehardy at AnotherThink; it's a fine piece, and it features my favorite apostle.

Meditations on NaCl

Conrad Gempf at Not Quite Art - Not Quite Living offers some pithy, on-target thoughts on Jesus' teaching about Christians and salt.

Who tells us what to care about?

Internet Monk Michael Spencer has written a challenging article about who tells Christians what to care about. We're surrounded by thousands of voices on both the MSM and Internet telling us what causes we should care about, from Scott Peterson to Terri Schiavo. Michael wonders about those with needs closer to home:
No disrespect to anyone, anywhere who's suffering, but we don't need to be told by the pundits who or what to care about. We need to be part of the relationships and world around us, caring about the people God puts in our "circle of influence."
What, then should we do? Michael's observations here are particularly insightful:
Christians need to step back from the media that tells us what we should care about. Media has an agenda. Always. That agenda is never identical to the agenda of Jesus in my world. No Christian media can take me into the lives of people around me. The example of Jesus does that. I need to listen to him.
True, true. Michael's whole article is worth reading.

Making God our focus

At HourEleven Vas Avramidis writes about Psalm 1 and making God our focus:
Have you found your spiritual life lacking? Are you like a boat tossed around by the waves of the ocean? Then make God the center of your focus. . . . we need to find ways to reintroduce God into the fabric of our lives. We need to spend more time with God throughout the day, not just the occasional morning and evening prayer time.
Vas mentions Deuteronomy 6, where the people of Israel urged to keep the Word of God against their bodies. Vas offers ways for Christians to leave ourselves reminders to speak to God throughout the day. Yet true devotion, he notes, goes beyond hurried words in spare moments:
God does not want hastily said empty prayers. Pray to Him with devotion and sincerity. Ask God to help you in this endeavor. In this way we can weave God into our daily lives and have Him always in our hearts.

All italicized text above from "Making God The Focus of Your Life- Psalm 1:1-3," Copyright 2005 Vas Avramidis & HourEleven, used by permission.

God is still at work

The Christian Courier looks at Habbakuk 1:2 and finds a reminder "that God’s providential activity among the nations is not finished!"

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What do we owe family?

At The Storage Room I've written about a local family and their relationship to Terri Schiavo. It's not for the faint hearted. It's also not written from an explicitly biblical perspective, but I've linked to it here as something to think about and use, if you wish, in your preaching.

Resurrection morning

You've probably heard the story of Brian Nichols, the man accused of rape who escaped from police custody earlier this month in Georgia. Nichols reportedly murdered several persons before taking Ashley Smith hostage at her home at 2 a.m. During the night, Ashley Smith was a personal witness for Jesus Christ to Nichols, and her actions led directly to his peaceful capture--and perhaps the salvation of his soul. Andrew Sullivan has written an Easter article in this week's Time magazine about the encounter. The story, he says, is fundamentally one of grace:
I say this as a believer. The crimes of Nichols are inexcusable. The serenity of Smith is close to inexplicable. But the message of the Gospels is that God works with the crooked timber of human failure. This was an exceptional moment of redemption. But every day, we have smaller, calmer chances to turn another's life around, to serve, to listen. How often do we simply not see what is in front of us? How often do we believe that the world's evils - from terrorism to crime to emotional cruelty - are beyond our capacity to change? Or that there is no one in front of us whom we can serve? Smith and Nichols' story is a chastening reminder that we may be wrong.
Amen. The essay is beautiful and moving. I urge you to read it for yourself.

Italicized text above is copyright 2000, 2005 by Andrew Sullivan, used by permission.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Grace for the broken

I recently came upon the ninth entry of Jim Street's series on addiction. It's powerful stuff:
God gives the kingdom to the broken.

What we are talking about is undertaking the journey in radical trust and patience. See, there is no "fix." That's the thing we have to get clear about: there is no "fix."

Nothing in the realm of the temporal or the material can achieve the spiritual ends we seek. I think that's why Jesus took pains to say, "Look, don't invest your lives in stuff that rusts or that moths can destroy or that theives can break in and steal. Instead lay up treasure for yourself in heaven."
There's a whole lot more. It’s worth a look.

It's only logical

In the effort to develop a deeper relationship with God, the writer at Totem to Temple has resolved to avoid spiritual trends:
I have decided that I am on a quest for a right theology and a deeper relationship with God. I have come to the logical conclusion that I can not afford any more Christian megatrends and fads that will come and go. I have come to the logical conclusion that I can not afford any more ‘moves of God’ that appear right but are grossly wrong five years from now. I have come to the logical conclusion that I can not afford to play anymore games that I want to get to the crux of the matter. I can’t afford to waste any more time on these ‘fads’, ‘games’ and ‘moves’. I need to spend my time, resources, devotion, study, and prayer time with God to ensure that I am growing as a mature believer in Christ.

Going along to get along?

I've debated with myself whether or not I should be spending words here crying out against the efforts to kill Terri Schiavo. The case is a divisive issue even among Christians, and I've tried to make this weblog a forum for helping all Christians be transformed into the image of Christ, despite political or doctrinal differences. Already my stance has put me at odds with fellow Christians I otherwise admire and respect deeply. Should I have simply kept quiet on this issue? I found my answer, ironically, in an article on a different subject, in the words of a man with whom I often disagree:
I phoned my life-long colleague and friend, recently. “Why do I do it?” I asked the person on the other end of the telephone line, hundreds of miles away.

“It’s the way it is for some of us. If we are silent, it’s as if the very stones will cry out,” my friend responded.
I don't believe the stones will cry out about all the issues C. Joseph Sprague raises in his article, but he is onto something here:
The problem with the progressive wing of today’s Church is not that the devil makes us do bad things - “smoke, drink, chew or go with boys/girls who do” - but that we are so damnably quiet, so status quo subservient in our niceness, that we ignore the Spirit’s leading and play patsy with the most seductive temptation of all: namely, to go along in order to get along, which is natural for us and all human beings, given the innate hunger for bread, power and entitlement all of us harbor.
I'm reminded of the prophet Isaiah, who called out to God's people in evil times: "Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Is. 1:16, 17).

(Thanks to Chin Weng Kit at Invisible Footprints for pointing to this article and for his own comments.)

Friday, March 25, 2005

God is in control

Here's one more post worth reading today at Eternal Perspectives. Mike illuminates the events of today in light of the events we remember today:
One of the worst feelings for most of us is that of feeling helpless and out of control. Now, as we read about inept, corrupt, and politically motivated judges sentencing an innocent person to a horrible death, the feeling covers us like a cloak of dread. It is out of control. We lose. They win. It’s over.

Or is it?

Maybe it only seems that way to us because we do not know the rest of the story. Perhaps, if we read more closely and think about it, we’ll realize that the pending death of an innocent person isn’t really what it seems to be. Let’s read the story again.

The story, of course, is the story of Jesus' death on the cross, the event we commemorate this Good Friday. And what is the rest of the story? Here's Mike again:
God is in control. Because He is in control, we are never as helpless as we might appear or feel when innocent people are sentenced to death. His will prevails. His purposes are accomplished. He is sovereign and omnipotent. He is good. And because He is in control and good, we have no need to despair.
Mike's right that we need not despair. God is indeed in control, and his will shall prevail. Let's all pray that we cooperate with, rather than resist, that will.

Final installment on divorce and remarriage

Mike at Eternal Perspectives has published the final part of series on divorce and remarriage. Today's installment looks at the teaching of Paul.

Please pray for Rusty Peterman

I've just gotten word that Rusty Peterman of Believer Blog had a stroke last week. I don't have any information other than a message from his son saying that he "should be back again soon." Rusty is a fellow blogger, Church of Christ preacher, and pilgrim in discipleship. I've included Rusty's e-mail address in his full name above. Please pray for Rusty and send him a word of encouragement.

John 20 resources at Textweek

Textweek blog has posted a variety of resources for lectionary preaching on the Easter Sunday Gospel passage, John 20:1-18.

The value of the ESV

Peter at Stronger Church explains why he's begun using the Engligh Standard Version. I've been using the ESV for about three years and think highly of it. Peter gives several reasons why it's a good choice.

More on divorce and remarriage

Mike Russell has posted his second installment on a biblical view of divorce and remarriage. This post looks at the teachings of Jesus. He's also gotten a new web site, so make sure to update your links.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Another Eugene Peterson inteview

This interview is with Eugene Peterson's publisher. At one point, Peterson explains the difference between the spirituality he writes about and the kind "prevalent in mainstream culture":
I am trying to recover a respect for the life of the Spirit that is revealed in Jesus and the Scriptures in contrast to a life that is defined by consumption and achievement, competition and psychological profiling. I am trying to develop an imagination that is immersed in the operations of the Trinity so that I will not be constantly seduced into thinking that spirituality is a way of managing my own life and the lives of others, my life with me in charge with an occasional assist from the Spirit. I am trying to practice a way of language that is personal, particular, relational, a language of poetry and parable and metaphor, a language that welcomes mystery and counters the bullying, propagandizing, sloganeering, cliched and abstracted use of language that dominates our schools, our workplaces, our media, and, sadly, our churches.

Does God make sense?

Here's Debra at As I See It Now:
Waiting For God to Make pretty much a big waste of time.

At least, that's what I've found. I used to expect His ways to be like my ways. I used to wait and do His will only when it made sense in my head. Small wonder I rarely saw miracles.

What's at the center of our thinking?

Emotions have been running pretty strongly lately among Christian bloggers as we consider what's happening with Terri Schiavo. Amid this situation, David Wayne offers Christians a much-needed reminder about keeping the cross at the center of our thinking. David is upset at what is being done to Terri Schiavo by her husband, Michael:
Yet, with all of my moral outrage on this, I have to stop and ask myself if I am viewing this situation, and Michael in particular through a gospel-centered lens, or through a cross-centered lens?
David quotes Jerry Bridges:
“The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history, it is [the] only essential message in all of history."
David wonders about Christian reactions to Michael Schiavo -- will we respond as we should? How many of those now outraged by Michael Schiavo's determination to see his wife dead, David asks, will be praying in the future for the man's salvation?

Good question, excellent post. I know I needed to be reminded.

Correction: I originally attributed David's words to Adrian Warnock. While Adrian deserves a hat tip for pointing me to David's Jollyblogger article, he clearly indicated the words were David's. My mistake.

Recommended: "Why Jesus Had to Die"

Jeff at Old Testament for the Church looks at "Why Jesus Had to Die." He finds part of the answer in the corporate identity of Israel:
Years ago, I remember hearing, almost apologetically, from one of my seminary professors that Israel after all did think about individuals. Looking back now, I took this to mean that poor ignorant Israelites were not as enlightened as we in the West. Now, I think just the opposite. We poor ignorant Westerners have forgotten what it means to belong to a group larger than me.
We in the West tend to see things, including the truth of the Scriptures, in terms of the individual. Jeff explains:
Our proclivity towards viewing most things individually has clouded our ability to accept that one person could die for all people. This is why we have a hard time understanding why Jesus had to die.
Yet the fluidity between the corporate and individual in biblical faith is central to Jesus' atoning death. Jeff has written a fine series of brief, readable, informative posts. I recommend you read them all: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Worship: All about me?

Brodie McGregor is concerned that much of what passes as worship songs today may well be idolatry:
On Sunday just past we sang a song - nice tune, ok words for the most part, but there was a bit that spoke of Jesus dying on the cross and then had the line, "he took the fall, and thought of me, above all else". I just couldn't sing it. Now none of us can say for sure what Jesus was thinking as he hung on the cross - his sayings from the cross perhaps give us some indication, but a scant one at that. What I think I can say with a degree of certainty is that he was not hanging their thinking about me!

"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matt 10:39, seems to have been lost on us, as we seem determined in much that passes for Christian discipleship and worship to prove this saying of Jesus wrong.

Sorry to rant a bit, but hey if what we're really doing is worshiping ourselves and not God, is that not idolatry, is that not something worth getting upset about?
I think it is.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Heaven all along?

Over at The Path, Ish writes about a sudden discovery while pitching hay:
I noticed something I hadn't before. With a slight breeze which brushed past my nose I smelt distinctly the smell of sage, and upon looking down I saw the pale strands in contrast to the green hay. It had been there before I'm sure. Probably on many different occasions. But I hadn't noticed until that day. I have always marveled that with the spring one can suddenly smell what he couldn't before. The source of the smell has always been there, but with the thaw the ability to smell is suddenly released from its cage. And then the world takes on an element that was missing, although no one seemed to notice until it returned

I wonder what it will be like to transition to heaven. Will it be like the sudden rediscovery of smell in the spring? Where that which has been all along (God's presence) is suddenly noticeable. And then upon looking back we might see where he's been , what he's done though out our lives so clearly. He is here, working, and moving in wonderful ways. But we just simply don't notice him, like I didn't notice the sage. But He is there, and someday we'll be able to look back, see, and smell his wonderful sent which has (hopefully) given flavor to our lives. To lives lived for him.
I wonder, too.

More breathtaking irony

Here's another bit of irony, posted Tuesday by Catez at Allthings2all:
It's World Water Day today. I'm reminded of how ironic the value systems of our world can be. We notice a reminder of the need for provision of adequate water throughout the world, while 41 year old Terri Schiavo is being forced to starve and dehydrate to death.
Kyrie eleison.

Note: Both the original post and the quote here have been edited to make clear that adequate water throughout the world is more than an abstract concept.

"God is more than this"

Mark Loughridge rejoices in having finished the 1,100-page Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock, a seventeenth-century Puritan preacher. Mark posts a number of quotations from the book, including this one:
Whatever God is, he is infinitely so: he is infinite Wisdom, infinite Goodness, infinite Knowledge, infinite Power, infinite Spirit; infinitely distant from the weakness of creatures, infinitely mounted above the excellencies of creatures: as easy to be known that he is, as impossible to be comprehended what he is. Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place: powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures, than the light in the sun, pure and unviolated, exceeds the splendor of the sun dispersed and divided through a cloudy and misty air: and when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, 'This is not God; God is more than this.'
Let's remember that last part.

Chocolate soldiers or warriors for Christ?

Scotwise quotes the work of English missionary C. T. Studd who asks: are we chocolate soldiers, or soldiers for Christ?

Whitewater faith

Chris Gonzalez writes with beauty about the challenges of questioning one's beliefs. The discomfort of that phase in one's faith journey, though, is the way to real maturity:
When people start asking faith questions, comfort no longer is an option. When the soul emerges from its cocoon and wants to fly, things get kind of scary. Scary because whatever is trying to fly has no prior flying experience. Yeah, it gets kind of dangerous.

Personal integrity requires ditching the cocoon for God knows what. However, community life so frequently says, "Ok, Ok, you've had your fun, now get back in that cocoon."
It's a brief article, worth reading.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Bird watching in the Bible

Jabbok at theirvins offers some brief, engaging obervations on birds in the Bible. He also tells a humbling story about birds in our own day.

Review of this week's Preaching Now

This week's Preaching Now includes helpful articles on breakout churches and doctrinal preaching, along with a variety of illustrations. At a personal level, there's also happy news from editor Michael Duduit.

Freedom isn't free

My countrymen use that phrase frequently in reference to political liberty. But how much more it's true for the grace of God. And I'm not talking works salvation. The free gift of salvation cost Jesus dearly. A life of discipleship will cost us dearly, too, if we really take up our cross and follow him.

Three posts this morning--by an Irishman, a Brit, and a Reb (no way I'll call a guy from Texas a Yank)--remind us that, in the words of N. T. Wright, "God does not want cheerful, shallow, flippant and easy-going" Christians. It cost Jesus to bring us into his Kingdom, and it will cost us to do the work we're called to do.

A fresh look at Luke 1

Today Dr. Conrad Gempf turns his attention to Luke 1. Conrad's online observations to his class are energetic, insightful, and brief. I think you'll enjoy eavesdropping with me on what he has to say.

Biblical view of divorce and remarriage

Dr. Mike Russell at Eternal Perspectives has begun offering installments of a position paper on divorce and remarriage. The first installment draws to a great extent on David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. Mike's current article looks at the social background of divorce and remarriage in Jesus' day. It's full of useful information on a topic often misunderstood in the church today, when we bother to consider the Bible's teaching on this subject at all. I look forward to the next installment, when Mike will examine the teaching of Jesus.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"Orders of magnitude greater"

I sometimes feel like an interloper reading Conrad Gempf's online class postings, but I like what he said today about the introduction to John's Gospel. One noteworthy quality, Conrad says, is the Gospel's mystical opening:
But the second curious feature is the way that woven into the fabric of this mystical almost philosophical wandering is the human John the Baptist. Isn't that weird? I can easily imagine a Christian writer today getting as mystical about Jesus as the author of John's gospel, but I can't imagine someone today writing it in a way that brings J the B up every 3 paragraphs!

I think this implies either that John the Baptist was extremely important in the writer's own spiritual journey or else he reckons that J the B is important to his readers. And in either case, his message is that Jesus is orders of magnitude greater.
One striking trend all through the Bible is the failures and foibles of its heroes: Noah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Paul, Peter. All of them at one time or another committed what we might call conspicuous sins. But then there is Jesus, "orders of magnitude greater."

Transsexual church?

Nathan Colquhoun offers these thoughts on the church as the bride of Christ:
The church throughout the bible is considered and called the bride of Christ. Christ is the groom. In this allegory we are Christ’s bride meant to serve and worship him in spirit and in truth. All too often I find that we are so busy serving and worshiping ourselves. We entertain ourselves with our programs, worship ourselves with our money and satisfy ourselves with a quick altar call. It’s almost as if we ourselves are trying to become the groom. Everything that we are commanded to be for the groom we become for ourselves. Are we not happy with being the bride?
I'd never thought of it that way before.

New forum for preachers

Rick Hill of Serenity Through Hope has started a new online forum for preachers. This is a brand-new undertaking. Rick has made me a co-moderator of the forum and invites all preachers, or those inerested in preaching, to log in and join the discussion. Most of us probably already have full plates with blogging, ministry, and life, but this is a solid opportunity to have back-and-forth discussions on issues relevant to preaching and ministry.

Belated thanks

I have a weekly rotation of blog readings, but lately I've fallen behind and missed thanking fellow bloggers who have written good things about Transforming Sermons. I hope these folks will accept my much-overdue thanks:

J. A. Gillmartin at The Sheep's Crib
Ono Ekeh at Ono's Thoughts
Laurie Ishii at Do You Know Jesus?
Catez Stevens at allthings2all
John Schroeder at the erstwhile GodBlogCon Prayer Blog
The Ranting Raven at The View From The Nest
and my fellow East Tennesseans at the Swap Blog

Praise God for these folks and other brothers and sisters who read this blog. For each one of you I pray it will be a vehicle for God's blessings in your life.

Story of life

Dory at Wittenberg Gate has a powerful, powerful post about Kate Adamson, whose husband refused to allow her to die, and who recovered from a coma to write a book. Her story would be a wonderful illustration for preaching, especially about Terri Schiavo.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Back to basics: The security of God's love

How secure are we in God's love? Over at 3:17, Mark Loughridge tells us. First of all, God's love doesn't depend on us:
His love for you is based on Christ, not on you. He loves you because of Jesus. And his love for his son will never change. So you are secure. Do you struggle to accept that God loves you? Its not because you're lovely, it because Christ is. And because Christ will never stop for a moment being lovely then you are secure. Utterly secure.

That gives us great confidence. When we sin it isn't the end of the world. When we sin we can still look confidently to God's unfailing love. That doesn't mean we can sin cheerfully - that would prove we weren't converted at all, but it means we don't need to sit wondering if God still loves us or not.
How do we respond to that love? Read Mark's post.

Review of Christ-Centered Preaching

Peter Bogart offers his thoughts on the second edition of Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching. The first edition was strong, and Peter makes me want to read this edition, too.

Turn the page on pastoral rage

Ed Rowell's article on pastoral rage is a must-read for ministers, even if you're not dealing explicitly with rage in your own heart (HT: SmartChristian blog). The problem for ministers, Ed explains, arises from a variety of issues:
All agree ministry is more complex than we ever bargained for. People's lives are more broken than even ten or fifteen years ago. The personal cost of doing ministry is higher than anyone ever dared tell us.
There are several reasons for pastoral rage. This one, somehow, seems to cut to the heart of the matter:
Dissonance between calling and reality. I came into ministry with a red-hot passion to change the world and revitalize the Church. Instead I found myself surrounded by hurting people who expected me to help them.
Solutions? Ed mentions several, including this one:
Give up the occupation of people pleasing. A friend recently experienced in his ministry a rebirth of sorts. When I asked what had happened, he responded, "After a dozen years in ministry, I discovered it wasn't my job to make or keep people happy."
It's good stuff, worth reading.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

A place for the Gospels' hard teaching

Internet Monk Michael Spencer writes about the importance of teaching and preaching the Gospels. As a young Christian, I found Paul's letters much easier to access. So did Michael:
When I first started studying the Bible seriously, I studied the epistles. I had no idea where to fit the teaching and miracles of the Gospels into my Christianity. . . . There was a sense that the Gospels were full of things that just didn't matter all that much when compared to the efficient, memorizable outline of the Roman Road or the practical teaching of the epistles and the pastoral letters.
On the other hand the Gospels, Michael says, make us uncomfortable:
Jesus makes things very complicated for American Christians. If you simply follow him around in the Gospels, you are going to get into trouble. Why? Because he isn't just talking evangelism. He's talking about a whole life of Kingdom-dominated, life-transforming discipleship. . . .

I just want to note that when the Jesus of the early chapters of the Gospels gets loose at the party, things don't head directly to the subject of church growth or the latest evangelism tract. He gets inside your suit, and he irritates you. He wants things to change, and it makes us nervous.
Jesus preached not just personal salvation, but the arrival of the Kingdom of God--a whole new way of living, thinking, and seeing. If you haven't read Michael's whole article, you need to do it. I think Michael Spencer is a prophetic voice on the Internet. He's considering writing a book; when he does, I predict students will one day be reading it in their seminary classes.

Red, white, and blue in the church

In Sojourners Sandra Dufield offers thoughts for "communicating across the red-blue divide." Her article, "Language That Unites," addresses a primarily "blue" audience. All Christians, however, should be paying attention:
We need to acknowledge the Religious Right’s morality staples and link these with biblical peace and justice concerns, remembering to constantly point back to scripture. Obedience and righteousness are motivators behind the Right’s dedication to the unborn and sexual integrity. Using this same language, we can make the case that peace and social justice are also obedience and righteousness issues. We need to make clear that Christ not only died on the cross for sins, he also left us an image and a life to follow. Christ exemplified how to live in this life with each other, how to respond to "the least of these."
Dufield goes on to make some valid criticisms:
Using conservative language, we can point out how some conservative worldviews are ultimately more "secular humanist" than "Christian." For example, a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" approach to the poor is unbiblical because it’s rooted in a worldly survival-of-the-fittest mentality. We can show how supply-side economics ignores Christ’s call to place the poor at the forefront of our endeavors.
More than simply making sure our language communicate across the blue-red divide, all Christians need to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ. If we do, he will overturn the idols in our lives and transform us into his own image, fit for service in the Kingdom. Then, we won't be red or blue--but whiter than snow.

Which professor would you fire?

Illustration fodder: Preachers! Don't miss this breathtaking irony at the University of Colorado (Hat tip: Cross Blog).

Is Jesus Lord of our shopping?

Keith, a missionary in Burkina Faso, writes about the morality of Western shopping. Most kitchens in the U.S. are larger and hold more varieties of food than the average shop in Gorom-Gorom. Keith wonders what obligations Western Christians have for dealing with our material bounty:
Well, as Christians, we probably don’t buy stuff we consider immoral. But is that it? Does that then give us the right to just spend the rest of our money on ourselves as we like? In what way are we accountable to God for the way we shop? What does Christian discipleship have to say about shopping, and the whole question of stewardship of the wealth God has entrusted us with?

Two initial thoughts:
Firstly, could we, and should we, live more simply, and buy less stuff, in order to free up more money for “being generous and doing good”? I think this is the biggest struggle I have when I look at how we live as Christians in the West. It does seem that we have just accepted the world’s attitude without question - that we have the right, even the need, to whatever is on offer – the newest technology, the bigger house, the fuller freezer, the better car. And this is often so in our churches as much as in our individual lives. . . . Yet God says the un-restrained pursuit of wealth and prosperity is the root of all kinds of bad stuff.

Secondly, how do we shop with justice? God hates unequal scales. He is concerned with justice for the poor. Are we concerned about whether the stuff we buy is part of a system that oppresses the poor in the pursuit of profit at all costs?
That's a long quote, but it's a big problem. How do we respond? Please read Keith's post.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The rising culture of death

Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed today. Please pray and preach for Terri. This post from Evangelical Outpost puts Terri's case in perspective of the rising culture of death.

Update: For a taste of the profound scandal at the heart of this case, read "Starving for a Fair Diagnosis" (HT: Biblical Christianity).

Powerful preachers at Scotwise

Scotwise continues a series on powerful preachers of the past with this post on William Chalmers Burns.

The tension of judgment and tolerance

Jeff McCrory has posted the final installment in his series on Mt. 7:1, judgment and toleration. He concludes that "justice is a God thing, toleration isn't":
Here’s the real bone stuck in the jaw: How do you and I live in a world of sinful human beings under a heavenly judge with an earthly presence, who has judged us in Jesus Christ without making ourselves the judge? How do we hold each other accountable to righteous behavior and call sin, sin and evil, evil without assuming the role of God? This is the real question for disciples.
John Schroeder responds to that question at Blogotional. The question itself, John says, reflects the tension between judgment and tolerance that faces Christians:
Tension is a part of our Christian life. We need to learn to relish it and live in it. In this case we need to learn to proper levels of tolerance and avoid becoming judgemental.
One of the most important purposes of the Bible is to show us the differences--by God's standards--between righteous and sinful behavior. Is this approach, then, too simplistic: Christians in many cases are called to judge attitudes and actions as right or wrong, particularly within the church, while not arrogating to ourselves the task of determining how God will deal with those who choose wrong?

Patience and community in ministry

Kyle Childress draws on the writings of Wendell Berry to discuss the values of ministry over the long haul.
We live in what Berry calls the culture of “the one-night stand,” and clergy are often little different. I’m among the first to say that God sometimes calls us to move to another congregation and that sometimes, by circumstances beyond our control (economic pressures or denominational policies), we have to move. Many of us will admit that occasionally we move because we’re climbing the denominational success ladder. But faithful staying and committing in the world of “one-night stands” is a witness to the gospel of “the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Besides all that, good ministry takes awhile.
Part of that long-term ministry is visiting members and encouraging development of not only a congregation, but a community.
The kingdom of God is not brought in with bulldozers. It cannot be imposed and still be the kingdom of God. The means God uses to bring about his reign must fit with the purpose of God’s reign of justice, peace, harmony and reconciled relationship with God, with humanity and with all of creation. It cannot be coerced with bulldozers, tanks or guns or with prayers ordered by the state, laws passed by Congress or manipulations engineered by Madison Avenue. God calls us to do the work of ministry that fits with the Prince of Peace, the Suffering Servant, Jesus.

Beyond pew warming

In keeping with the "purge Sundays" post, here are some words from Jason Retherford:
Faith is more than pew-warming. James said it first, not me. He chides the recipents of his epsitle for the lack of action. Sure, they knew all the right answers. They could quote Bible, book, chapter and verse of course. But when it came time to put faith in action, some in the congregation just warmed the pew. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widos in their distress and to keep onself from being polluted by the world" (James 1:26-27).
The easiest way to produce changed actions is to preach shame ("You ought to be ashamed for just sitting there and warming that pew"). God, however, doesn't merely call us to better actions, but to transformed hearts. The discussion on how to preach the Word that transforms both heart and behavior continues here, at Blogotional, 21st Century Reformation, Adrian Wanock's blog, and elsewhere. Your thoughts?

Purging the herd

Thanks to SmartChristian for linking to this article on "purge Sundays" at The Meeting House, a four-location congregation in Ontario. Faced with explosive growth in attendance, the preacher at The Meeting House gives an occasional "purge sermon" to separate the disciples from the tourists:
Teaching pastor Bruxy Cavey admits "purge Sundays" were his idea. "Evangelical Christians can be a trendy bunch, always looking for the good deal and where the action is," he explains. "The more we have grown as a church, the more we have attracted tourists who come to check us out and will attend for some time, but never consider The Meeting House their home church. We don't think that's healthy for them -- to be a voyeur on church life, rather than a healthy, active, committed participant in church life.

"So we started to ask them to leave."
Once or twice a year Mr. Cavey preaches a "purge sermon" outlining what real Christian discipleship looks like, and then asking those in attendance to either walk the walk or take a hike to a church where they can.

I don't plan to be quite so pointed in my preaching, but there is a pretty strong New Testament example for doing so. Have you ever noticed how Jesus often saved his most difficult teachings for those times when the crowds around him were largest? See, for example, Lk. 14:25-35 and Jn. 6:22-66. At the end of his ministry the people of Jerusalem welcomed him in triumph, and he responded by giving hard teaching and throwing things around in the Temple. More to the point, he went from the fame of the crowd to the shame of the cross. That thinned the crowds all right.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

One-paragraph commentary on Jonah

In his online class notes, Dr. Conrad Gempf has posted what amounts to the best one-paragraph commentary I've ever seen on the book of Jonah:
The most important message of this book is that God is more willing to give second chances -- to wait for his people -- than people are. The scale of self-deprecating humour in the book is astounding. There's only one Jew in the book and he is the only person in the book who doesn't respond properly to God. Even the feared and despised Assyrian Ninevites hear and obey. I'll bet this book and its author were as roundly condemned by the religious Jews of his time as Jesus was in his.
I'll bet Conrad is right.

Whatever you do, do it good

Once I figured out what Charles Wright was saying in "Express Yourself," I wanted to share it with you:
Whatever you do, do it good.

It's not what you look like when you're doing what you're doing;
It's what you're doing when you're doing what you look like you're doing.
Does that remind you of anything?
Doing your work readily, as to the Lord, and not to men: In the knowledge that for every good thing anyone does, he will have his reward from the Lord, If he is a servant or if he is free. - Eph. 6:7,8
Update-- Rick Hill has reminded me of an even better passage:
Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ - Col. 3:23, 24.

You mean it's not about my happiness?

Daniel J. Phillips serves up some iconoclastic ideas on marriage and divorce over at biblical christianity. Daniel draws on both his own thoughts and Bob Just's Son of Divorce. Here's a sample:
If your mindset is that marriage is all about making and keeping you feeling happy, without cost, you are likely to be shocked, horrified, and appalled to learn that it simply is not so. You will be unprepared. You will be undone. You will bolt for the door our culture so obligingly holds open for you.

If on the other hand you view your marriage as you and I should view everything else in this fallen world, as something undertaken before God, and as long as we expect that it will have its share of crosses -- and as long as we accept that we need those crosses -- we can and will find happiness in our marriages.
It's strong stuff, but well worth a read.

Questioning Q and me

Dr. Anthony Harvey has written an online review of Questioning Q, edited by Mark Goodacre and Nicholas Perrin. Many of us have been introduced to Q, a theoretical source (along with Mark) behind Matthew's and Luke's Gospels. The Q theory has been around for two hundred years and has very nearly become "gospel" for NT scholars, Dr. Harvey notes:
Yet the theory still has opponents. Is their position no longer tenable? Or might it be the case (as these authors argue) that the very success of the Q hypothesis has made its proponents oblivious of its vulnerability; indeed has made them lose the habit of seriously engaging with contrary arguments at all?

This collection of essays by eight American and British scholars is a serious attempt to have the question reopened. They recognise that abandoning Q would be nothing less than a paradigm shift for New Testament studies. But at the very least their arguments demonstrate the fragility of the hypothetical structure that is taken as established by the great majority of scholars. Their project is a wholesome reminder that, despite two centuries of labour and ingenuity, the origins of our four Gospels still remain beyond the reach of any certain knowledge.
How does a scholarly book like Questioning Q relate to transforming sermons? In a couple of ways. First, as Dr. Harvey suggests, Questioning Q is a reminder that the Word of God eludes much of the dissecting, categorizing, and packaging to which we try to subject it. We must avoid the temptation to be arrogant in approaching the Scriptures.

Also, it's a reminder that we should be preaching the Word of God, not human theories about the biblical text. I've heard sermons mentioning the "gospels" of critical studies: Q, JEDPR, second and third Isaiah, etc. Some of those sermons were interesting to my mind, but I don't think they did much to transform my heart. Textual, redactional, and form issues have a place in teaching, sometimes even in the local church. But those relatively few minutes of Sunday morning where the congregation waits for the preacher to open the Word of God to their hearts is not the time for Q. It's the moment "to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." That kind of change comes not through our best efforts, but only through the living Word of God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ingredients of true revival

Scotwise has a fine little excerpt of Martin Wells Knapp's writing on revival. His summary includes a link to Knapp's own article.

Christians and judgment

Jeff at Old Testament for the Church is currently doing a series on judgment and toleration. He begins with Jesus' admonition in Mt. 7:1 not to judge. Jeff then draws on both OT and NT to show that judgment is not a bad thing. In fact, he notes that judgment is part of God's essential character:
To name the biblical God is to name a judging presence in the world. This is the foundation upon which the statement of Jesus rests. The Old Testament knows of no God but Yahweh, and Yahweh is a judging personal presence in the cosmos.

By the way this is a good thing. We all want someone to step in and act to right wrongs and to punish evildoers. Wouldn’t you want someone to stop a thief from robbing you or a corporation from cheating you? Before we move on to the next point, I want you to understand that judgment is a good thing.
So far Jeff has published three parts. They're brief, readable, and biblically sound.

Choosing a church for music?

Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, has an outstanding article on "Praise and Worship Theology." Many people, Michael points out, make music the most important factor in choosing a congregation:
That's outrageously wrong, and I can't imagine why evangelicals are tolerating it. The demotion of preaching and the elevation of music is an invasion of the church by a culture that wants less content, less authority and more experience and feeling. Post-modern apologists may make the case that preaching is passe' (and some forms of it always will be) but preaching as a divinely sanctioned methodology has Biblical theology on its side.
Amen. It's good to see fellow Christians proclaiming the power of proclamation. When I began seminary in 2000, "seeker sensitive" services, with contemporary music and felt-needs evangelism, were the thing. Four years later, the tide seemed to have turned, at least in the circles I frequented, back toward the Word of God as the power of church health and growth.

Posting trouble

Please bear with me--I've been having trouble accessing Blogger and posting today. I can't say I'm not getting my money's worth, though.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

One Christian's moment of conversion

Brad Hightower of 21st Century Reformation writes on the moment of his conversion, and how the Word of God was central to that moment. It's a well-written and moving account.

Preaching for Terry Schiavo

By this coming Sunday Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is scheduled to be removed. Christians need to preach and pray for Terri's life. I won't write much about it, because others have been following it more closely than I and have stated the case eloquently enough. For information on the latest happenings, see BlogsforTerri, Wittenberg Gate, and this brief summary at Blogotional.

Discussion continues on power of preaching

The ongoing discussion on the power of preaching continues at Blogotional and Adrian Warnock's blog.

Preaching and heart change

Adrian Warnock has more to say on preaching to change the mind and heart. He quotes George Whitefield in saying that true conversion is of the heart, not of doctrine and actions. Adrian then makes this observation:
These words are terrifying- a man can be apparently a Christian but never really saved. All this might leave us tempted to give up preaching at all, and leave it all to God since conversion is a sovreign act. And yet, God has also ordained the means. The mystery is that he has determined that the spoken word of God would have the primary place in being the tool by which genuine transformation can occur.
During the past few decades I've heard a lot preached, written, and broadcast about how easy it is to be saved, and how little heart transformation is expected of us. Yet when I read the works of preachers from, say, a hundred years ago back to the time of the apostles, they have a lot more to say about conversion of the heart. Could we be missing something?

Online sermon evaluation forms

This week's Preaching Now is strong. One feature is a collection of sermon evaluation forms from preachers around the United States, several of whom developed the forms during their D.Min. programs. The current edition has other helpful articles as well.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Are we really willing to go that far?

Tabletalk's Craig Williams examines Rom. 12:18-21 and the potentially fatal consequences for Christians. Drawing from Josephus, he notes that the Jews persuaded Pontius Pilate to remove idolatrous images from Jerusalem through their resolution to die. As the Jews bent their necks for the swords, Pilate was "deeply affected with their firm resolution to keep their laws inviolable," and the Roman governor relented. Craig shows how that approach is relevant to us now:
Christians can pay attention. The world would be "deeply affected by our firm resolution" to respond to threat and even death by the means of God's Kingdom. One theme in Luke as Jesus makes his way to the cross is that the warning to the people to repent is more than to repent of personal sin. They are also being warned to repent of the means of earthly kingdoms to solve their problems. To be a follower of Jesus is to be obedient to both his words and his means. If you are in the Kingdom of Heaven, then start acting like it because the ways of worldly kingdoms will not have a place in the Kingdom of God.
Are we paying attention?

Christians and total warfare

Peter Leithart offers challenging thoughts on enemies--of God and his people. Dr. Leithart shows from scripture that God has enemies, and then reminds us that if we belong to God, we will have enemies, too:
One of the great evils of modern Christianity is the belief that we can somehow escape enmity, that we can come to some mutually satisfying compromise with the world, that we can treat enemies as friends without consequence.
Enmity with the world is inescable. If we try to make peace with the forces at war with our God, Dr. Leithart says, we commit the sin of Ahab with the Arameans:
The weapons of our warfare are different now, but Christian warfare is still a warfare of utter destruction.
The article offers challenging thoughts, particularly for those who hold onto Mt. 5:9 but prefer to overlook Mt. 10:34.

Jesus and social justice

Larry James blogs about poverty, social justice, and faith. Here's a sample, in which Larry considers why Jesus didn't simply eliminate poverty, which is caused by the freewill decisions of both the rich and poor.
Jesus seeks to win hearts. He did not come to overrule freewill decisions. Those times when Jesus touched people, fed people or intervened in a miraculous way are examples of his compassion and his charity. Poverty will never be overcome or adequately addressed through charity or compassion alone. Systemic change is called for and such change requires tough, sometimes hard-nosed but faithful, lifestyle decisions. Jesus spoke to this very clearly. Read Luke.
Larry works on the front lines of urban ministry in Texas. He knows what he's blogging about. Preachers not familiar with what's at stake among poor families in the U.S. would do well to get acquainted with the issues Larry discusses.

Every Christian is a priest

Writing about 1 Corinthians 1 & 2, Brad at 21st Century Reformation has some great insights on the power of the Word of God in evangelism:
Because knowledge of the truth of history does not come from compiling a mountain of evidence for the listener or from an airtight rational argument, Paul . . . intentionally puts his faith in the power of God to simply communicate directly to the hearer of the Gospel that indeed the Gospel is THE story of human history. In other words, the best way to do evangelism is to tell the simple story and to lay hands on people asking God to reveal himself to the person. This method puts our faith in the power of God and not our persuasive words of wisdom. This does not mean we do not contend at all for the faith by being reasonable but that we acept that certainty does not result from pure convincing rational argument or pure convincing evidence. Ultimately, the answer to the big picture question of what is the theme of the story of history comes from special revelation.
Brad focuses both on proclamation of the Word and on Christians as bearers of Christ:
As Christians, we are first and foremost a people with whom God dwells. We are a people of His presence . . . . We attempt to effect the word through all sorts of other methods, like politics and rationalistic apologetics, which are simply not the one thing needful. People need to hear the word of God from the presence of God.
Amen. How often do we reflect on the fact that the church is "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people"? As much as we do, we will be empowered to "declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pe. 2:9).

How can we have revival?

John at Scotwise has completed his series on revival. His final post, addressing how we can have revival, is a good one.

What the Bible has to say about e-mail

In his notes on Proverbs 16-18, Conrad Gempf comments on what the Bible has to say about e-mail:
You don't go looking for "mail, electronic" in a concordance and then diss the Bible for not being relevant to today's culture. You read and absorb what the Bible is telling you about communication and become changed inside and allow that to affect everything you do.
That's along the lines of the way I've been trying to read the Bible lately--not only for information, but transformation. It's also what this blog is committed to furthering.

More on the mind and preaching

The second part of Adrian Warnock's series on understanding the mind and preaching has been posted. Adrian is a psychiatrist, and he writes about how sermons should work at more than conveying information. In preaching, we should help our listeners transform their minds. The Holy Spirit, of course, changes hearts, but the Spirit may use preachers as instruments of that change. Adrian invites comments in the discussion of how preaching effects the renewal of the mind.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

72-hour blogging break

I'll be away from the computer till Sunday evening. In the mean time, you might want to catch up on what's already here. Hope you find something that blesses you, and I look forward to being back with you soon. De colores.

Using wisdom literature wisely

Proverbs, more than any other book of the Bible, is the one from which Christians lift single verses, often out of context, to "apply" to our lives. In his meditation on Proverbs, Conrad Gempf points out that even this most "everyday" book of the Bible is more about transformation than information. The radical teaching of Jesus, Conrad notes, is built upon the foundation of wisdom found there:
Again, even in a book like Proverbs, which aims to be above all things practical, it's striking how much of the advice isn't just about what to do or how to do it but about how to think, what attitude to have. Jesus and his concerns may be a development, but it's a development completely in line with Judaism: "Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart" (3:3). Or "do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act" (3:27).
The book of Proverbs is easy to misuse, especially if we try to take verses out of context (to see the problem with doing this, compare Prov. 26:4 and 26:5). Proverbs, like all the Word of God, is intended to challenge us, to shape us, to transform us. God didn't give us the book to do our thinking for us, but to teach us how to think. We are interacting with the book best not when we pull out a nugget of wisdom to apply to a situation, but when the wisdom of God's Word fills us and influences our every decision from the inside out.

John 11:1-45 resources

If you're doing lectionary preaching, or if you're simply interested in John 11:1-45, you ought to have a look at Jenee's latest post on the Textweek blog. Also, Fred Craddock's article on a part of John 11 is available at Religion online.

Nuts and bolts of expository preaching

Phil A. Newton at 9 Marks has a good how-to article on "How do I preach expositional sermons to uneducated hearers?" (Hat tip: Stronger Church).

The prodigal sons and Bible exposition

Jollyblogger has posted the latest installment on the prodigal sons and biblical interpretation.

Ten qualities of a great preacher

The current edition of Preaching magazine includes an article by Austin B. Tucker on "What Makes a Great Preacher?" (Note: You need a subscription to access articles in Preaching). The author lists ten qualities of a great preacher. This one really spoke to me:
Great preachers have a passion to preach

Some pastors are content to be administrators and organizers. Other ministers would gladly spend all their time in visiting or counseling or other one-on-one ministry. They might wish preaching were never part of their duty. They know nothing of Paul's burden: "I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I preach not the gospel!"(1 Cor. 9:16 NIV). Great preachers must preach or die.
It's good to hear someone else express that sentiment. What finally prompted me to quit playing at being a preacher about five years ago and really commit my life to evangelism was the realization that I had to proclaim the good news or die. I didn't know if God would strike me dead or if I would shrivel up and die, or if only my soul would die, but I knew that I had to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.

Frugality, the planet, and our souls

While I take issue with a great deal of The National Council of Church's open letter on the environment, their words on frugality are right on target:
Living lives filled with God’s Spirit liberates us from the illusion of finding wholeness in the accumulation of material things and brings us to the reality of God’s just purposes. Frugality connotes moderation, sufficiency, and temperance. Many call it simplicity. It demands the careful conservation of Earth’s riches, comprehensive recycling, minimal harm to other species, material efficiency and the elimination of waste, and product durability. Frugality is the corrective to a cardinal vice of the age: prodigality - excessively taking from and wasting God’s creation. On a finite planet, frugality is an expression of love and an instrument for justice and sustainability: it enables all life to thrive together by sparing and sharing global goods.
Christians may disagree on what's really happening to our planet's ecosystem, but we should all agree that greedy consumption threatens not so much our planet as our own souls.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Leaving everything to follow Jesus

Nathan Colquhoun meditates on Luke 5:1-11 and what it means to leave everything and follow Jesus.

More on Christians and politics

Here's another thought from Biblemike:
Somehow we have confused liberal and conservative Christianity with liberal and conservative politics. Neither their goals nor their hopes nor their means are the same. When we confuse the world with the spirit and the spirit with the world, the world will win and division will reign.
Good point.

Update: Ish provided this link for further light on Christianity and politics.

Our burden for lost souls

In his essay "Have We No Tears? Have We No Shame? Have We No Grief?," Biblemike writes about the burden Christians should have for lost souls:
Many of us have no memory for the great revivals of the church, because we have never seen what true revival is. We walk calmly with the status quo as our generation marches inexorably toward hell. We sleep peacefully at night because our church is saved and those outside have to face the problem for themselves. It’s not our responsibility after all. Jesus whipped the money changers out of the temple, but first He wept over them. He grieved for their souls. Shame on us. Everlasting Shame on us for we do not weep a single tear for those misguided souls.
Surely Biblemike is overstating the case here . . . isn't he?

Update: John at Blogotional answers that question here.

More on the parable of the prodigal sons

Jollyblogger has written more on the parable of the prodigal sons.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Who do you attract?

David has an insightful post at Jollyblogger on the parable of the prodigal son. Both brothers in the parable are at one point lost--the younger in his irreligion and the elder in his religion. Here's the lesson David draws:
The outcome of both religion and irreligion are the same – lostness. The gospel is a “third way” of salvation that is neither through religion or irreligion.
David then delivers this knockout blow, in the word of Tim Keller:
The point? When the message of the gospel is clear, moral people tend to dislike it, while irreligious people are intrigued and attracted. The way to know that you are communicating and living the same gospel message as Jesus is that “younger brothers” are more attracted to you than elder brothers. This is a very searching test, because almost always, our churches are not like that. The kinds of people that were attracted to Jesus are not attracted to us.
Jollyblogger's article is worth reading. Please do.

Update: Looking at my post this morning, the English teacher in me cries out that the title should have been Whom do you attract? But changing it would disrupt the aggregator links, and whom looks just a little too pedantic anyway.

Christians, life ethics, and politics

I came across this June 2004 Sojourners article by Jim Wallis thanks to Kevin G. Powell. Wallis shows both how neither major party in U. S. politics is truly a "Christian" party, and how a consistent Christian ethic necessarily intersects the realm of politics:
. . .the conventional liberal political wisdom that people who are conservative on abortion are conservative on everything else is just wrong. Christians who are economic populists, peacemaking internationalists, and committed feminists can also be "pro-life." The roots of this conviction are deeply biblical and, for many, consistent with a commitment to nonviolence as a gospel way of life.
When it comes to Christians and politics, the lines, it seems, are not as easy to draw as some folks would like them to be. Here's Wallis again:
The tragedy is, in America today one can’t vote for a consistent ethic of life. Republicans stress some life issues, Democrats others, while both violate the seamless garment of life on several vital matters. But the consistent life ethic still serves as an invaluable plumb line by which to evaluate all political candidates and parties.
Right now life ethics require that Christians speak out for the life of Terri Schiavo. Let's preach about her. Let's pray for her. We can't afford to be silent.

Preaching peace

I learned about via SOJOMAIL. The Preaching Peace web site is oriented toward lectionary preaching and has a good scripture index for preaching peace, along with interesting introductory and occasional articles. In yesterday's post I had wanted to include information on their conference, Making Peace 2005, but I couldn't find dates on their site. Today I have. The conference will be August 21-27 at Painted Post, N.Y.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Baal and the North American church

Here's another gem from the Christianity Today interview of Eugene Peterson:
Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. "We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals." This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word.
What about today--is the Word enough?

Preaching and transformation of the mind

Blogger Adrian Warnock, a psychiatrist, is beginning a series on preaching and transformation of the mind. Here's an excerpt from his first entry:
We have to see our minds as like spongues. They can be squeezed and moulded not just by propositions and a conscious acceptance of certain truths but by what we are exposed to on a dripfeed basis day by day. We must not passively allow this process to happen.

Our brains are neural networks that create associations and structures between words and concepts- it is in my view those very associations that good preaching is designed to change.
I look forward to the rest of the series.

The season of preaching conferences approaches

The season of preaching conferences (at least in the U.S.) is upon us. Here are five that promise to be worthwhile.

Preaching Magazine's National Conference on Preaching will be held April 18-20 in Nashville. The theme of this year's conference is "Preaching With Passion." Among the presenters is one of my two most favorite preachers, Will Willimon.

Festival of Homiletics 2005, sponsored by The Christian Century and others, will be held May 16-20 in Chicago. This year's theme is "Preaching and Living the Sermon with Sacred Storytelling." Speakers include the other one of my two most favorite preachers, Fred Craddock.

Rochester College's Sermon Seminar 2005 will be held May 23-25 in Rochester, Michigan. The theme this year is "Who Are You? Preaching Mark's Unsettling Messiah." Presenters include Morna Hooker and Fred Craddock. I plan to attend this one if I'm able.

Montreat's annual preaching conference will be May 30-June 3 in Montreat, N.C. This year's theme is "Telling the Truth in a World of Denial." I'm not familiar with any of the presenters, but I do know that Walter Brueggemann is on the planning team. And the conference theme is a powerful one.

Cathedral College in Washington, D.C., is holding a series of preaching seminars this spring. Here's a sample: "Preaching the Just Word" (April 10-15), "Preaching that Connects the Seminary, the Sanctuary, and the Streets" (April 25-29), "The Pulpit as a Playground for the Spirit: Whatever Happened to Delight" (May 16-20), "Jesus as God's Parable: Preaching the Gospel of Mark" (May 23-27). There are more.

Please let me know if there are other conference to highlight on this page--particularly any that you may know about in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, or elsewhere.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

On the wisdom of repugnance

Joe at Evangelical Outpost has an outstanding three-part series on "Defending the Wisdom of Repugnance" (HT: Blogotional). He makes a compelling case, drawing on academic research, for the value of the "ick factor"in making moral judgements. Good stuff.

We're broken

Rusty Peterman had this to say in his reflections on the movie Because of Winn Dixie:
We especially need to come to grips with the fact that we all have been broken. Church is not a place for dressing up and looking good and pretending everything's all right.
Can I get an "Amen"?

"The art of pleading with the souls of men"

Adrian Warnock's blog has a pithy quote from Charles Spurgeon on the power and awesome responsibility of preaching.

What does it take for preaching to "stick"?

Peter at Stronger Church is seeking input, particulary from preachers, on how to "extend the benefits of our preaching and teaching beyond just Sunday." Peter observes that in our media-saturated culture, we tend not to remember the specifics of what we hear--including the church's preaching and teaching. I've commented fairly extensively at Stronger Church on my experiences in trying to help preaching and teaching "stick" with the congregation. Peter's post and my comments are here. It's an important subject. Will you join the discussion?

Update: John Schroeder and Dr. Adrian Warnock have added their thoughts to the discussion.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Awesome Bible study resources

A hat tip to Rebecca Writes for turning me on to an outstanding Bible study site. The Bible Centre has the usual collection of public domain books, along with some surprisingly newer ones. Look at this:

The Commentaries section includes works on 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians by F. F. Bruce. New Testament Studies include the Westcott-Hort Greek NT text from 1881 with NA26/27 variants, Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, F. F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? and Gerhard Kittel's multi-volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

The section on English Bible Versions includes Charles Ryrie's Inerrancy and Bruce's "The Two Testaments." The Reference Library has e-versions of two textbooks I studied in seminary: Dillard and Longman's Introduction to the Old Testament and Carson, Moo and Morris's Introduction to the New Testament. There's also a fine Bible map collection and an interesting book, new to me, Dictionary of Bible Types by Walter Wilson. The Theological Library has John Piper and Wayne Grudem's Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood along with works of both Calvin and Arminius.

There's some exceptionally good material at The Bible Centre. Along with this post, I'm adding links to the map collection and center main site.

Update: On closer examination, it looks like The Bible Centre may be violating copyright law by posting some of the newer works. I've removed the links to all pages and will leave them off till I'm convinced they're not copyright violations.