Friday, September 30, 2005

Contemplating holiness

Doug McHone shares some thoughts at CoffeeSwirls on the holiness of God. He looks at Isaiah 6 and considers the dangers of the kind of prosperity found in Isaiah's day (and ours):
The god of this age seeks to pacify us with comfort and prosperity. The goal is to satisfy our carnal cravings so that we will not look to the needs of the spirit. No god who exists solely to satisfy our wants is worthy of our worship, though. If the chief end of God is to satisfy man, then God is guilty of idolatry and that cannot be. God’s chief end is to enjoy Himself forever and He is the only being who can have that end and not fall into sin, for He is of all things most glorious.

The holiness of God is such that no man, no matter how good we try to be, can bear His presence. . . .

The view of true holiness will lead men either to repentance or to ultimate despair. But because God is holy, he is merciful.
Even though I understand the biblical and theological explanations, it's still amazing to me how the infinitely holy God invites us to call him abba, "Daddy." And I believe that until we appreciate the holiness of God (and our sinfulness in contrast), we will not enjoy the blessings of being his own.


Jeff at Anti-Itch Meditation writes about his young daughter and the urge to over-manage children:
It’s a temptation to squash kids, tell them not to get so upset, don’t get too excited. . . But my daughter longs for perfection and for eternity. She shows it so clearly. I love that.

It seems as if the Church tries its hardest to squash people. Don’t have too much fun. Don’t get angry. Don’t get upset. Don’t laugh. Don’t cry. Don’t play loud music, unless it’s in the Spirit of course.

We squash believers and then tell them to go out and attract people for Christ. Right. How’s that work now? The world won’t listen to people who are more squashed than they are. C. S. Lewis said, “We castrate the gelding and then bid him be fruitful.” That’s the Church. That’s why it’s so ineffective and that’s why no one comes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Inside or out?

In a brief, incisive post, Keith Plummer considers churches that use marketing techniques to pull a crowd:
The director of administration of one church that has tried to attract new people by holding rock concerts said, "If you can't get them into your building in one way or another, they're not going to hear your message." That's quite an overstatement but it reflects the commonly held view that the church building is the locus of evangelism. Why does it seem that we're often more interested in getting non-Christians into our sanctuaries than we are with equipping Christians to get the message out?
Exactly. That's a critical part of congregational preaching -- to encourage and help equip the saints to do far more in going out and reaching the lost than one man (the preacher) could do alone.

Update: Jeff of Anti-Itch Meditation has also posted a reaction to K.P.'s post.

Update 2: Thanks to John Telfer Brown, perhaps blogdom's greatest encourager, for pointing out this post at Blogcorner Preacher.

Girl Talk is latest Warnie Award winner

Girl Talk is the latest Warnie Award winner for Christian blogging. Girl Talk is written by a mother and her three grown daughters. It's a new one for me, but I look forward to reading it in the future.

Beyond Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Chanon Ross has written an excellent article at The Christian Century on helping youth distinguish between the gospel of Jesus Christ and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (HT: Notes from the Front Lines). The danger is in trying so hard to make youth activities attractive that the church's teenagers become spiritually malnourished:
Teens respond to the message that their faith offers an alternative to the world. But this realization requires a community of adults who embody this difference. Explaining that life in the Body of Christ is different is insufficient. Adults must show how to live this difference. Where are the adults and trained ministers capable of leading youth and their parents into the particular story of God's work in the world?
Truly building up youth is a task not only for youth ministers, but for the whole church. I wonder--can a congregation's youth ever be more spiritually mature than the community as a whole? I encourage you to read the whole article.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On living simply

Matt Bell, reflecting on Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, considers the difficulty in following Jesus' teaching on simplicity:
While the concept of simplicity has been around for a long time, the growth of the self-storage and closet organizer businesses would seem to cast doubt on its popularity. . . .

In our materialistic, marketing-saturated world, simplicity isn't, well, so simple. But as Richard Foster points out, it begins on the inside with the attitudes of our hearts and minds. And those attitudes are cultivated through prayer and meditation on the truth of God's Word.
Matt's article, by the way, is a simple way to begin looking at our lives and how well we follow the discipline of simplicity (HT: Smart Christian blog).

The travesty of sin in perspective

David Wayne reminds us that in evangelism, it's helpful to talk not only of humanity's sinfulness, but of the righteousness God intended for us before the Fall:

Our created state of original righteousness gives us a reference point for understanding the sinfulness of sin. If God had created man for the purpose of sinning then how could we call anything man does sinful? Man would simply be fulfilling the purpose for which he was created.

But man was not created to sin, He was created in the image of God to glorify God. Sin consists in failing to fulfill that purpose. If a person uses a black magic marker to doodle on a black canvas, or a red magic marker to doodle on a red canvas, the marks aren't noticeable. But if somoene doodles with a black or red marker on the Mona Lisa, then we have a travesty.

Hence, the travesty of sin - man was created to be a thing of beauty, reflecting the beauty of the creator - sin is that which mars the image of God in man and turns man against His creator.

I for one needed to be reminded of this fact. In an effort to the chase it's all to easy to skip over the scandalous "travesty of sin."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Distilled in the crucible of human suffering"

This blog is about transformation. To that end, I try to post biblical insights to help Christians, particularly preachers, to rise above conformity to the world. Yet in that same world is where transformation takes place, as Matt Grills reminds us:
As Christians, do we tend to offer people pat answers about how Jesus loves them, or do we get down there with them in the gutter, on their worst day and in their most hopeless circumstances, to show them Christ's love by holding out a hand?
Good question.

Monday, September 26, 2005

New stuff at Stronger Church

Peter Bogert has gathered links of interest for all Christians, particularly those in pastoral ministry.

Preaching with blood and heart

Well, Chris Erdman has written another dynamite preaching post at Odyssey. Consider:
It’s possible to preach with masks . . . and we do. But I don’t think we can keep them intact over the long haul and preach Christianly. Christian preaching is, among other things, an announcement of the new creation, a whole new humanity in Jesus Christ, liberation from old captivities. When we wear masks, our preaching cannot spring forth from that newness. . . .

Preaching leads us all into God’s new world. But to go there we will need preachers who are learning to drop their masks, open a vein and live with as much honesty as they can muster for the moment. . . .

What I’m talking about is not mere self-actualization; preaching isn’t primarily about us. . . . Preaching is about forming congregations who are living witnesses to the newness of God, preaching congregations who are themselves open, unmasked, unadorned clay jars through whom the treasure of the gospel shines brightly . . . . Humanness, finally and scandalously naked and unmasked, is the bearer of the glory of God. To put it in my terms, our congregations must be led to “open a vein,” and live with a truthfulness that bespeaks the Lord Jesus Christ. And if congregations are ever to drop [their] own masks and enter the mystery and marvel of the naked heart, then their preachers will have to lead the way.
Well preachers, are we up to the task?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More than "more poetic legalism"

Tod Bolsinger writes about the Sermon on the Mount and reminds us that Kingdom living is more than simply "new and improved" morality:
Sometimes when we start talking about living in the Kingdom, there is a tendency to think that God’s reign and rule is simply a more poetic way to talk about legalism. We hear Jesus talk about “righteousness” and immediately think that what he means is “You have to be more moral, more obedient to the law, more ‘good’ than anyone else.” Indeed we can sometimes fall into the trap of believing that the announcement of the Kingdom is nothing more than recruitment for a more intense, more committed, “new and improved” religious person. . . .

But it isn't really about that at all. Sure, we are called to live moral lives. Yes, Christians should be "good". But at the same time, the point of the Kingdom isn't to show the world how good we are, but instead to point to the reality of God's remaking of the world by demonstrating his renewing effect in our lives.

Well said. Tod offers this insight as well:
The Sermon on the Mount is therefore not about urging us to be good, (indeed, being “good moral people” is what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were best at) but instead encouragement to do the “good works” of the Kingdom, to live in ways that our distinctive to the reign and rule of our life so that in our distinctiveness we may be part of God’s plan to “preserve” his world and reveal his presence to it. But that requires that there is a distinctiveness, a difference to our lives that is only explainable in reference to the Kingdom.
Amen (Hat Tip: Blogotional).

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Happy-happy and doctrine both

Jeff at Anti-Itch Meditation looks at 1 Tim 4:16 and considers different approaches to discipleshhip:
I often hear people criticize those who emphasize doctrine and I also hear criticism of those who emphasize victorious, happy-happy living. Both are good in one aspect, both are bad in another. If you combine the two--sound doctrine with victorious living, benefits will abound both for you and anyone who hears you.

If the Church did both of these it would be running smoothly. The fact that it’s not running smoothly is proof that we are not. So what are we waiting for? Know it and live it.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

We'd better be misunderstood

David Wayne (along with Adrian Warnock) quotes D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones this week on salvation by grace alone. If we preach the gospel as we should, Dr. Lloyd-Jones warns, we should expect, like the Apostle Paul, to be falsely accused of preaching "continue to sin, that grace may abound":

That is my comment and it is a very important comment for preachers. I would say to all preachers: If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in that way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God. There is this kind of dangerous element about the true presentation of the doctrine of salvation.


Longing for the good old days?

Doc Steve looks at problems in the church over the perspective of the centuries:

Does your church have problems? Do the members get along, or do they argue like little kids. Wasn't there a time when the church was different, a time when they got along or resolved their problems like adult Christians? Don't be so naive.

There never was a golden age of the church. There never was a time when the doctrine was pure, the love warm and the fellowship supportive of each other.

The church of Jesus Christ exists to share the Good News with the whole world. It is made up of sinful, faltering, uncertain saints, washed in the blood of the Lamb. And these uncertain saints bring their own biases, their own troubles, their own fears to the church. And they are the instrument God has chosen to reach the world with His love.

Imagine that---God can use flawed instruments like us. Believe it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The value of congregational preaching

Jim Martin considers the value of congregational preaching:
This moment where we open the word of God is not just a "lesson" or a "sermon." No, the one presenting the message is holding a live wire in one hand and is bringing it to human beings who desperately need the power and life of God. This is not just a speech. This is not just a an exercise in rhetoric. No, during this moment , the Holy Spirit goes to work on people who desperately need hope--who desperately need to be reminded that the cross/resurrection story can make a radical difference in life at street level. Some are encouraged. Some are convicted. Some are comforted. God knows exactly what to do in each heart.

And yes--some will hold back. Asleep. Closed. Disengaged. They are not going to open themselves to this moment of God's work--at least not now.

Yet, you never know what is going to happen. At times, God seems to work in spite of all that happens. In spite of the crow. In spite of numerous distractions. In spite of all that seems to work against this moment, God does a powerful work in someones life.
Jim chooses to believe that God is powerfully at work during the proclamation of the Word. So do I.

More on the purpose of preaching

Scot McKnight has done a series of blog posts on pastoral life, based on Col. 1:24-29. In Part 2, Scot gets it right in discussing the purpose of preaching:
let me emphasize that the purpose of preaching is not to relay information only nor is it to be received well by the congregation, but to bring both into a relationship in such a way that the Word of God implicates the congregation (and the preacher/teacher) into its own story.
Amen. I also appreciate Part 4, which stresses the strenous labor of gospel ministry.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Welcome back, Dory

It's good to see that Dory is blogging again at Wittenberg Gate.

Quote of the day

. . . we best - nay, we ONLY - really know who God is and what He has for us, in Christ Himself. We are not to focus on "eternal, holy decrees", but on the God-Man nailed to the Cross. The fullest and clearest revelation of God's will and character is in Christ.

More on confessing ourselves--the church

Peter K. Nelson says that both suffering and failure are a part of discipleship. If the church in the West were more open about confessing our own shortcomings, he says, the world would turn its eyes from "sloppy saints" to the source of our salvation:
The dark night of the soul is a means of weaning believers from their destructive dependence on anything but the Lord himself. Contrary to superficial American expectations, God does some of his best work when we can't make life "work," when all the outward measures spell chaos or disaster.

We can take this a step further by adding sin to the equation. The Master turns the tables on corruption from within as well as hardships from without. God's sovereign orchestration of messy lives includes redirecting the momentum from our sinful thoughts and actions toward our ultimate good. When we disobey the Lord and head down a collision course with holiness, eventually there is wreckage: devastated marriages, runaway debt, pretense and deception that hollow out the conscience. By letting us stumble in sin and shatter our brash confidence, by undercutting our self-righteousness and brazen pride, the Lord forces us to accept the soul salve of humility. God positions us to hope in his grace and anticipate heaven's bliss, rather than fall for some slick scheme of glitter and blessings today.
And how do we best grow from our failures?
The way forward for Western and other imperfect Christians is the path of humility and brokenness. Of course, humility and brokenness don't sell very well from the pulpit, not to mention in our society. But that's irrelevant. What matters is that the Lord, in his sovereign ingenuity, wills to teach us trust and humble dependence by bringing us through hardship; trials represent the roundabout, yet only true way toward spiritual maturation. And the Lord includes among these hardships the spiritual turmoil suffered by forgiven sinners who become painfully aware they are far from the peak of holiness.

Update: Swap blog reacts to this post and offers more ideas here.

Update 2: Blogotional adds to the discussion here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Large enough to hold the truth of the Word"

Craig Barnes offers a good definition of gravitas, an essential quality for church leadership--gravitas:
Gravitas is a condition of the soul that has developed enough spiritual mass to attract other souls. It makes the soul appear old, but gravitas has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with scars that have healed well, failures that have been redeemed, sins that have been forgiven, and thorns that have settled into the flesh.

It all expands the soul until it is larger than the body that contains it, large enough to hold the truth of the Word of God. And, like gravity, it pulls others not to the pastor but to the holy work that has occurred within the pastor's soul.

This gravity isn't a commodity that can be purchased with seminary tuition payments. It certainly isn't found in a library. A weighty soul has to be developed the hard way.

And how does one develop this quality? By exposing oneself, Dr. Barnes says, to the demands of church leadership.

Confessing ourselves

Mike Russell reminds us that sin is not merely behavior or thoughts --- it becomes a part of who we are. Therefore the truest confession is not merely of our actions, but of ourselves:
Our confession must not be relegated to the words and actions of omission or commission; it is not our behavior that is the heart of the problem. Our confession needs to be of ourselves, of who we are, of our problematic hearts. Christ died for our sins, it is true, but He came to save sinners. We must not for a minute think that we need the grace of God less because we have been declared righteous.

We need to be saved from - not merely our sins - but from our sinful selves. It is who you are, not merely what you do, that needs to be confessed.
That's where transformation really begins --- when we confess the corruption of our very souls and allow the grace of God to begin changing us from the inside out.

Evangelical Underground is aboveground again

Eric Ragle is back into Christian blogging with the re-emergence of the Evangelical Underground. Eric, perhaps best known for the Evangelical Blog Awards, seemed to struggle for several months with the EU and his online identity. I'm happy to say that, by all indications, he's back --- and making plans for a second round of blog awards.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Blogging break break

Well, Carolyn's family is still having a hard time, but we decided (after packing the van) that it would be better to stay in Virginia, at least for now. Thank you for continuing to pray for Carolyn's mother (complications from cancer surgery), her grandmother (stroke and broken leg) and another family member with severe relationship problems.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Three-day blogging break

Well, I'll be taking a three-day blogging break to be with family back in Tennessee. Please pray for me, my family, and my wife's family. We've only been in Virginia about three months, and it looks like the devil is hitting Carolyn's family hard right now with an explosion of sickness and other troubles. We're convinced God wants us in Virginia--he's doing a wonderful work in our congregation--but we're taking a couple of days off to be with blood kin. We praise God that he has made us a part of this work. And we covet your prayers.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The church, relevance, and darkness

Chris Kottre considers whether or not the church gives too much attention to what the world thinks in shaping our message and practices (HT: Sycamore). Chris raises some valuable points:
It just seems that in attempting to be relevant, the church may place itself in danger of giving undue emphasis on the frustrations and opinions of people out side of the church. These are people who are walking in darkness; and though the light (Jesus) is shining, according to John 1:5, these people do not comprehend it.

If these people are stumbling about in the darkness, why would I want their opinions to define my ecclesiology? Furthermore, why are we even surprised that people have a distaste for the church? Is it modernism's fault? Or at some point do we need to consider that maybe the world hates Christ because he testifies that what it does is evil (John 7:7).
Good questions.

Opening up, not boiling down

Adrian Warnock has recently made two important points about the gospel:
1. Someone can be saved on the merest snippet of truth then spend a lifetime making sense of it.
2. The gospel actually includes the entire teaching of the bible and thus cannot be adequately contained in any system.
Amen. I'm trying to help our congregation put that first point into practice. This past Lord's Day I reminded my congregation that the job of preaching is not to "boil down" the Bible into a nice sound bite. God has already boiled his Word down, so to speak, into the Bible itself. Our job as preachers is not to boil down but to open up---to open the minds and hearts of our hearers to the transforming vastness of the Word.

The goal of our transformation

This blog is about transformation in preaching and the life of discipleship. Jollyblogger David Wayne has written an encouraging post about the goal of our transformation.

Friday, September 16, 2005

U. S. civil religion and idolatry

In response to the latest Pledge of Allegiance court ruling, Joe Carter has shined the light on the whole concept of "civil religion," with its origins in the atheistic thoughts of Rousseau (HT: Keith Plummer). And Joe's evaluation of the fundamental idolatry of American civil religion is bang-on:

There is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between America’s civil religion and Christianity. If we claim that “under God” refers only to the Christian conception of God we are either being unduly intolerant or - more likely - simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that the Hindu, Wiccan, or Buddhist is claiming to be “under” the same deity as we are? We can’t claim, as Paul did on Mars Hill, that the “unknown god” they are worshiping is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pledge is, after all, a secular document and the “under god” is referring to the “Divinity” of our country’s civil religion. Just as the pagan religion of the Roman Empire was able to incorporate other gods and give them familiar names, the civil religion provides an umbrella for all beliefs to submit under one nondescript, fill-in-the-blank term.

Our God is a jealous God and is unlikely to look favorably upon idolatry even when it is put to good service. While we should be as tolerant of “civil religion” as we are of other beliefs, we can’t justify submitting to it ourselves. That is not to say that we can’t say the Pledge and think of the one true God. But we should keep in mind that this fight isn’t our fight and the “god” of America’s civil religion is not the God who died on the Cross.

Amen, amen, and amen.

Note: I've edited the post to make it clear that Keith Plummer gets a hat tip and not that he's synonymous with Rousseau.

Is this how we treat the poor?

Bethany at Danced knocked me flat this morning reflections on Christians and the poor. Bethany quotes Saint Vincent de Paul, who urged Christians to serve the poor as our masters, "with utter respect, and do what they bid us." Then Bethany gives us this observation from Mother Teresa:
Do you not believe that it can happen, on the other hand, that we treat the poor like they are a garbage bag in which we throw everything we have no use for? Food we do not like or that is going bad–we throw it there.

Perishable goods past their expirations date, and which might harm us, go in the garbage bag: in other words, go to the poor. An [article] of clothing that is not in style anymore, that we do not want to wear again, goes to the poor.

Kyrie eleison.

Update: I've edited this post to more accurately attribute the quotes. Thanks, Bethany, for setting me straight.

Update 2: Swap Blog continues the discussion here.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What do you mean, "duty"?

Bill Wallo consistently offers thoughtful critiques, from a Christian worldview, of popular cinema. This week he's hit a bases-loaded, ninth-inning homer with his evaluation of why Roman Holiday simply couldn't be made in today's cultural climate. It's a sobering evaluation, and a must-read for Christians trying to understand the North American Zeitgeist. I would suggest only one edit to the essay: what Bill calls "countercultural" has, over the past forty years or so, become simply cultural.

The repulsive scandal of the cross

Bob at Gratitude and Hoopla tells about a conference talk from Gordon Fee on the scandal of the cross:
It is God's utterly repulsive solution to the problem of our sin. The thing is, our own coping strategies are never as foolish as God's or as scandalously humiliating. Oh, we may be willing perhaps to sacrifice something, but never as God sacrificed. That's insane, and it's awful, and our instinct is to cry, no, the situation can't be quite that bad. Because the most scandalous, the most awful and repulsive part is this: it was all on our behalf. It was the only solution to the problem that we created. And however much we might hide from the fact, we know deep down that we have not deserved that even one drop of Christ's blood be shed for us, or one moment of that humiliation be endured on our behalf. It all seems so . . . not right. Praise God, for He chose the foolishness and scandal of the horrible cross, so that we might live with him forever.
Amen and amen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hypocrisy or holiness?

Audience One puts forward some challenging but valid teaching on church discipline:
God desires for His people to be pure and holy and to live a life of integrity in the world and before Himself. As the Apostle Peter has said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). When the church embraces strong Bible teaching and rejects being held to its standard, we have the spiritual chaos that is evidenced today. When we divorce biblical preaching from biblical living “it promotes hypocrisy, instead of holiness” says, John MacArthur. To illlustrate, I had an opportunity last week to share the gospel with a Muslim gentleman while my front brakes were being changed. Through the course of our conversation he said something very insightful and convicting; his number one bewilderment about Christians is “why do you all believe one thing and constantly live another?” This is a tremendous indictment against the church.
Yes, it is.

Wondering about the foundation

Paul Littleton has begun entertaining the notion of whether or not the time of the United States' ascendancy has passed:
We've built on a foundation that is a mile wide, but only about 3/8" deep. It is reflected in every area of life - including church life. I mean, come on. Is my life going to become all that I want it to be if I buy the new H3? Look at some of the most popular TV shows. I love watching Seinfeld. But it, and nearly every other sitcom these days is based on a narcissistic hopelessness. They even spoof their own show in the episodes about Jerry getting his own TV show, and the genius of the show is that it is a show about nothing. After all, life is about nothing. And now we have churches that are drive-ins where you can come in your pajamas and curlers, or that are now being simulcast and the preacher is somewhere else altogether. We sacrifice human contact for the sake of convenience.

And as if it weren't already bad enough, what with 11:00 on Sunday morning already being the most segregated hour in America, we now have churches targeted at specific demographics within a community. We certainly wouldn't want to worship with "those" kind of people, now, would we?

I'm just wondering how long we can keep this up? Those things aren't our walls and windows. They are our very foundation. And people are becoming increasingly disillusioned by them. What happens when they crumble for good?
I'm wondering, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Remembering history

At Reformation 21, Carl Trueman discusses the decline of teaching and appreciating history:
At a general cultural level, the crazy consumerism of advanced Western capitalism, with its craven idolatry of the new and the novel and its contemptuous dismissal of the old and the traditional, has made sure that the utilitarian disrespect for history has continued which was first established by the rise of the industrial and scientific ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Theological training has mimiced the wider cultural trend in devaluing history, Dr. Trueman says. Closer to home, so do broad trends in evangelicalism:
To pretend . . . that we somehow stand outside of history, that we just have our Bibles and somehow manage to transcend our specific location in time and space when we read it, is thus hopelessly naïve; but until we acknowledge that this is the case, we can ironically do nothing to help us transcend our own time. A critical approach to ourselves and to the tradition in which we stand is only possible once we . . . accept that we are deeply indebted to the generations of all those who have gone before. This is bitter medicine for those who think history is all about good guys and bad guys, and who think that God”s will can be read in a simple and straightforward manner off the surface of events and actions.
How should we approach history?
Humble and critical engagement with history is thus imperative for the Christian: humble, because God has worked through history, and we would be arrogant simply to ignore the past as irrelevant; critical because history has been made by sinful, fallen, and deeply fallible human beings, and thus is no pure and straightforward revelation of God. It is this balance of humility and criticism that we must strike if we are to truly benefit from history.
Preachers and teachers in the church, let's remember the value of history.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I've once again winnowed my blogroll to delete non-reciprocal links. This time I removed mostly those who may have once linked to this blog via a Blogdom of God blogroll. Removing these links has effectively freed me from the now-you're-in/now-you're out rollercoaster ride of Blogdom blogrolling. If I've deleted your link in error, please let me know. Otherwise, the RECIPROCAL LINKS section is now beginning to approximate a list of blogs I actually read, and of those who actually read this one. Thank you for reading Transforming Sermons.

Going through links has made me wonder once again about the two-month silence of a favorite blogger, Dory at Wittenberg Gate. Does anyone know what's happened to her?

Also, finally getting Internet access at my house has disrupted my routine so that my posting is not as synchronized as when I hit the wireless coffee shop each morning between 7 and 8 a.m. Please bear with me as I work out a new routine. Once again I praise God that this site may be helpful to a few brothers and sisters in Christ.

New wineskins and the table

Professing Professor John Mark Hicks reflects on Luke 5:27-39 and the implication of new wineskins in the church today:
New wineskins are not about praise teams, responsive readings, drama in the assembly or even new methods of “doing church.” It is not about the latest fad in order to be “new,” “current” or “relevant.” Rather, it is life transformation—a new way of relating to people, embracing “the other,” living in reconciling ways, dismantling the barriers that divide.

To use new wineskins or to put on a new garment is to act in ways that demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God in the world. Jesus did it at table with sinners. We “do it’ in our own context.

We demonstrate it when we seek out friendships and show hospitality to the “others” in our culture—the poor, the homosexual, the Arab, the illegal alien, the disabled, etc. We demonstrate it when we sit at table with the “others” and invite them into the kingdom of God. But the invitation rings hollow when it is shouted at a distance, with a shrill voice filled with hatred and condemnation. It only rings true when we are at the table with them.

Not always what they seem

I appreciate the recent reminder from Adrian Warnock that things are not always what they seem in the world around us. Adrian, for example, considers the Assyrian king Tiglath Pilesar, terror to the Israelites of the Old Testament:
. . . Kings like Tilgath Pileser who believed themselves to be highly powerful were in fact mere tools in the hands of God who used them to work out his purposes in the life of his people. So when God's people were in the place they should be these guys experienced defeat, but when God's people needed to be taught once more to rely on him these people experienced great victory.
God's use of pagan nations in the OT should keep us from being too quick to assign God's purposes to world events in our day. The Assyrians and Babylonians, for example, were each used as instruments of judgment against the Israelites. That certainly didn't mean they were on God's side, though, and the Lord brought wrath upon both those nations for their own sin.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Powers, principalities, and hospitals

Chris Erdman writes about taking the Word of God to hospitals. His evaluation of the power implicit in medical centers, and its implications for society, is particularly acute:
It used to be that in any community the biggest, most overstated and intimidating building in town was the church. But today, the biggest, most overstated and intimidating buildings are medical centers. And frankly, they’re far better attended than the churches. They also deliver a much more tangible and apparently useful service—they keep people from dying. Not always of course, but for the most part they do a pretty good job. And the buildings and machines that occupy them seem to swell with pride as their place in our society expands.

In and amongst these things of such power, the Bible seemed to me to be pretty out of place and, while often tolerated by the staff (who knew that a little religion often did some good keeping patients patient), the stuff of the hospital whispered that my Book wasn’t nearly as important as the bleeps and blips and pokes that administered the grace of the new god of technology. I’m not being completely fair of course, material things are not in and of themselves bad or evil—we are plenty glad for what they provide—but they are what the Bible calls “principalities and powers” and as such can slide into the place reserved for God alone.
What place does the Word have in such a climate? Read Chris's article and see his thoughts.

Friday, September 09, 2005

God's call to remember the poor

Doug Floyd has posted an excellent collection of Scripture passages describing the obligation the people of God have for the poor. I recommend it.

Reading the Bible as a whole

Preachers are tempted to mine the Bible for little nuggets that "preach." That's why I appreciate Mark Loughridge's recent quote from J. I. Packer about reading the Bible. Here's my snippet from Mark's snippet from Packer's God's Plan for You:
. . . we are not in the habit of treating it as a book - a unit - at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of "read," we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious. It is, I grant, the way of natural religiosity. But it is not the way of true religion.

God does not intend Bible reading to function simply as a drug for fretful minds.

The reading of Scripture is intended to awaken our minds, not to send them to sleep. God asks us to approach Scripture as his Word - a message addressed to rational creatures, people with minds, a message we cannot expect to understand without thinking about it. . . .the Bible comes to us as the product of a single mind, the mind of God. It proves its unity over and over again by the amazing way it links together, one part throwing light on another part. So we should read it as a whole. And as we read, we are to ask: What is the plot of this book? What is its subject? What is it about? Unless we ask these questions, we will never see what it is saying to us about our lives.

When we reach this point, we shall find that God's message to us is more drastic and at the same time more heartening than any that human religiosity could conceive.
I suppose this post is ironic: a snippet from a snippet about not reading the Bible in snippets. Well hey, brothers and sisters, whatever it takes.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What about joy?

Dan Edelen writes about joy as an end in Christian discipleship:
I've heard many Christians say that the reason the Church in America is powerless is that too many Christians are satisfied with being saved and leave discipleship at that. We have a church geared to fire insurance only. But if this were the case, why the lack of Christians rejoicing that their names are written in heaven? Why so little talk of heaven at all? Does heaven hold no joy for us now?
It's a little ironic that Dan is saddened by the state of joy in the church, but he's right, I believe, on how defining that characteristic should be for Christians.

Infuriating the holiness police

John Frye reminds us that Jesus was viewed as an unholy man by the "'holiness police of his day'":
He had the wrong people eating at his table. He touched lepers and let a disreputable woman touch him in a scandalous sort of public. He "worked" on the Sabbath. He went to unholy places and talked with unholy people. Jesus was a supposedly clean man doing blatantly unclean things. Again, this is according to the first century purity police.

He taugrht unholy people and uttered unholy words. "Destroy this temple and I'll rebuild it in 3 days." He was accused of being a lunatic and demoniac leading the "stupid" people astray. All this is recorded in the four "good news" books.

For these things, Jesus came under constant surveillance. He was a watched man; a marked trouble-maker. Jesus even became the target of numerous murder plots. Even his blog spot was surveilled.

Why? Jesus taught and lived as if holiness were an infectious identity, not a set of good behaviors. He acted as if his Father said, "Be holy, for I am holy" rather than "Do holy things because I do holy things."
Scot McKnight, whose blog pointed me to this post, said it this way: "For Jesus, holiness was not something fragile in need of protection but something powerful in need of liberation." Amen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The courage to stand alone with God

Debra at As I See It Now offers a few thoughts that all Christians (especially preachers) would do well to remember:
When you stand with God you must always be willing to stand alone, just you and Him.

You must be willing to be criticized, misunderstood, accused, laughed at and shunned. You must be willing to lose friends and maybe even your job.

But you must realize this: Somehow, somewhere, and in some way, God will make it up to you.

If there's one thing we see over and over again with preachers in the Bible, it's that they frequently stand alone, or nearly so. Remember the loneliness of Elijah or Jeremiah, and how many believers turned against Paul. That's good to remember sometimes, particularly when we meet resistance to the sometimes painful strength of the Word.

Spotlighting Darfur

Allthings2all has posted a Spotlight on Darfur. There's a huge amount of information out there, and Catez has performed the service of making it accessible.

Popularity and the gospel

In a similar vein to Rusty Peterman's post about suffering and the gospel, Matt Self offers these thoughts on popularity and the gospel:
Gospel is not your typical positive message. If we are honest, it is a call to struggle, to denial, to embrace burden. Yes, Jesus renews us through the Spirit, but any attempt to explain this to a non-believer that does not force them to weigh the cost -- to understand the reality of their decision -- is a perversion of the Gospel. If we are selling them a better life through less struggle, less heartache, less pain, we aren't preaching the real Gospel.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Giving all of ourselves

Swap Blog looks at the devotion of world-class athletes to their sport and wonders if Christians are that devoted to the Lord:
God calls His people to be FULLY devoted to Him, His word, His ways, His work, and their fellow believers. Many times we are not willing to give all, but only part or only the part that is easy or the part that is safe to God. It is a sad thing that athletes, politicians, actors, and alike are more willing to give all they have to protect their views, their reputation, their ideas, and their beliefs then the people of God. This should be seen as a challenge for those that are called to be God’s people. We should be willing to give all that we have to both stand for God and protect God’s people

. . . . what I want to challenge you to do today is to be willing to go as far as it takes, even if it means all that you hold dear, to defend Christ and those that Christ brings to Himself.
Excellent thoughts.

Not beyond the reach of heartache

Rusty Peterman, who lives close enough to the Gulf Coast to have refugees living in his own neighborhood, offers some valuable reflections about suffering and the gospel:
It's important to not be mistaken about Christianity. Being a Christian isn't some kind of hazard protection. Like it doesn’t mean that, if you are a Christian, you're somehow exempt from harm.

A person who follows Jesus will still have struggles. Life will still be tough. A Christian may lose a house, or job, and have to start all over. Christianity does not put you beyond the reach of heartache or hardship.

But the hope of Christianity is that you can have a strength in you to see it through. You will be able, by power and grace from Jesus, to get up when you’ve been knocked down.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Thanks again, Bob

It's been an honor having Bob of gratitude and hoopla serving as guest-host here the past three days. I hope you scroll down and read some of the good work he did while I was away.

Why Blog?

Andrew Jones spoke recently on the subject of the "spirituality of blogging." Phil Goodacre was there and took excellent notes. To both men, then, I am in debt. Andrew's eleven points are succinct and insightful. Together they answer the question, "Why Blog?" And they answer it very well. I feel it would be a disservice to rip any of this out of context, so just do yourself a favor and read them carefully.

The Blogging Trail:
I found out about Phil's notes to Andrew's talk because I stopped by at Conrad Gempf's Not Quite Art, Not Quite Living. Thanks are owed to all.

Oh, and btw, this may be old stuff to many of you, but Phil also links to Andrew's Blogger's Prayer. Beautiful.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Taste and See

Nathan Colquhuon (of Fleeting Limelight) was walking through Toronto when he had one of those that's-what-God-is-like experiences. It's a nice extended metaphor, but here's the heart of the matter:
We can be so close to God, and not be able to see him at all because we forgot that it was all about the cross. Church, relationships, alcohol, fun, past, education, careers can all be good things, but for some reason we allow them to stand between us and God, which filters the version of the God we see. Only at the foot of the cross, will everything be seen the way it was meant to be.
Meanwhile, Mark Loughridge of 3:17 shares an extensive quote from J. I. Packer. Now that's always a good thing, and this example is no exception. Packer is speaking here about the too-common habit we Christians have of browsing the word of God rather than reading it as a whole; as a story, that is, with a start, a middle, a finish, in which no one part truly can be understood apart from the rest. Packer writes,
The Bible comes to us as the product of a single mind, the mind of God. It proves its unity over and over again by the amazing way it links together, one part throwing light on another part. So we should read it as a whole. And as we read, we are to ask: What is the plot of this book? What is its subject? What is it about? Unless we ask these questions, we will never see what it is saying to us about our lives.

When we reach this point, we shall find that God's message to us is more drastic and at the same time more heartening than any that human religiosity could conceive.
I like especially that he said "drastic" as well as "heartening." Mark, thanks for sharing that one.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Human Capacity for Sin

Bob here. You may know me as Mr. Standfast, although now I'm holding forth over at gratitude and hoopla. In case you missed his announcement, Milton has asked me to guest-blog here at Transforming Sermons. Whatever fit of foolhardiness seems to have come over him, I don't know, but I promise to do my best to follow in his footsteps for the next three days, posting once or twice each day, pointing out a couple of outstanding blogposts that I have lately found. As I mentioned on my own blog, the honor is all mine!

Okay, on with it. I decided to use Milton's blogroll as a guide, checking out some of the bloggers that I don't visit often (so little time, so many good blogs). Well, it didn't take me long to find something outstanding:

Buzz Trexler of The Pastor's Buzz, whose words are definitely right on time. Buzz is talking about the human capacity for sin, and of how we all, most of the time, vastly underestimate that capacity in ourselves. We may watch some of the terrible things going on in New Orleans, and confidantly assure ourselves, "I would never do those things. I would never act that way. Not me."

The post is called But we're not like that . . . are we? Buzz is touching on profoundly important matters here, and applying a Scriptural understanding of human nature. I have heard much talk of Katrina being a punishment of God on New Orleans. But Buzz is looking at the essentially Pharisaic core of that understanding. He says:
If life is a story about me, then all things that would better my situation are acceptable -- even if it means that your life is degraded in order for mine to be upgraded. (Corporate greed is a prime example of such an attitude; after all, it's all about the bottom line, not about the people who produced the bottom line.)

In short, the lowest common denominator is ... sin.

As Don would say, "... the problem in the universe lives within me."
It's important stuff, to be read, really, in fear and trembling. I urge you to check it out.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A prayer for New Orleans

Although I've reached my two-post standard for today, this one-paragraph post by Conrad Gempf is so timely and powerful that I want to share it in its entirety here. After this, I'm on the road and blogging duties here will be in Bob's very competent hands. Now, here's Conrad's call to prayer for New Orleans:
We'll hear about the one guy who fired on one helicopter; we'll hear about the government officials who were concerned about the corporations. We'll hear about the looters and the robbers. That's what the media are like. That's what sells papers. But I'm sure that there are thousands of stories we'll not hear on this planet: thousands of acts of unselfishness, of neighborliness, of love, of the kingdom. Very few will make the news, but remember those people in your prayers, too. Give thanks for the ones who are there doing what they know is beyond fair and right to compassionate and sacrificial. And pray that when our chance at adversity comes, we might be numbered among them.

The power to surrender

Pete Porter has posted strong advice at Brian's Nonsense about surrendering to the will of God. Here's a sample:
The ability to give ourselves to the will of some-one else can only be done one way. In love. Love is the only thing stronger than survival. Where there is love there is self-sacrifice, to the object of that love. This love comes from the knowing of the person who is loved. Not in a theory, but in a fact. By introduction and experience. With understanding and full acceptance of the worthiness of the person.
Thanks, Pete, for showing very simply the relationship between love, knowledge, and surrender in obedience to our Lord.

Acknowledging both karma and grace

The Doctor is In, springboarding off a long quote from U2's Bono, riffs on karma and grace (Hat tip: The Christian Carnival at Crossroads). What makes Christianity different from other religions? All other religions call folks to act differently, while Christ calls us to become different beings:
What is needed is a core inner transformation: we must become someone different. We are hard-wired to take–we need to be transformed to give. Trying to be other-oriented–following the rules, being a good person–without this transformation is counter-productive: it breeds resentment, self-righteousness, pride, self-sufficiency. But this inner transformation cannot be brought about by ourselves–it must come through others, and above all, from Another. But once this happens–and our will must be broken before it can–the miracle of motive change begins to take place.

When I act, I do so for one of two reasons: I do so because I have to, or I do so because I want to. While these motives may overlap, it is–not surprisingly–much easier to do the things I want to do than those I have to do. Karma is about doing that which I have to do–to placate a demanding God, to save my own skin. The miracle of grace is the willingness–the desire–to do that which is contrary to my nature, yet beneficial to my spirit.

Yet grace does not instantly transform–it seems rather to thrive in the fertile manure of failure. Those who grasp grace still fail at marriages, have rebellious children, hurt others, act selfishly, pursue wealth and the material. But the seditious espionage of grace slowly erodes the forces that drive these disasters, changing–from the inside out, one small step at a time–the corruption of self to the contentment of service. Failure–the judgment and condemnation of Karma–becomes the very seed of recreation, of new life: from the stench of manure will grow the fragrance and beauty of a flowering garden.
It's an interesting thought that "karma" is true -- as far as it goes. It's just an Eastern religious way of talking about moral law. You reap what you sow, what goes up must come down, for every moral or immoral action there's an equal and opposite reaction. Praise God that the redeemed in Christ are no longer under law, but under grace.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Coming soon: TS's first guestblogger

You may have noticed there's now another contributor to this blog. That's because Bob of Mr. Standfast fame has agreed to guest blog Saturday through Monday while I'm on the road. I'm honored to have him helping like this. Bob was one of the first Christian bloggers I encountered on the web, and his keen eye for excellent blogs pointed me to some of the best I've found. I admire Bob's consistency, clarity, and the sense of positive discipleship expressed in his writings. Some of you may come to like his blogging here better than mine, but I have every intention of coming back to Transforming Sermons Tuesday morning. Still, you can find Bob's own writings at his new blog, Gratitude and Hoopla.

Marketing our preaching

Dan Edelen reflects on the content and methodology of preaching with some interesting historical information on an early American marketer of preaching.

Clarification: As I should have made more clear, although Whitfield did a lot of preaching in North American, he was himself British.

The centrality of the Word

Peter at Stronger Church shares his reflections on 2 Tim. 4:1-4 and the centrality of preaching to Christian ministry:
The more I think about the church and about what is important, I am convinced of two things:
  • Scripture must define our ministry priorities.
  • When we look at the pastoral task in Scripture, our primary - not our only, but our primary - priority must be the communication of God's Word.
Amen. Peter's message is in the form of a charge to his brother-in-law on the occasion of beginning work with a new congregation. Even if you're not one of Peter's in-laws, I recommend reading the whole post.