Until we reinvent an understanding that God created a world where you can’t have your cake and eat it to, we will never be the disciples or the church that will change the world. When our service, our love, our humility, and our obedience fails in the face of the ego trip of “personal rights,” the unbelieving world will see what we really are deep down: just like them. Only with the trappings and restrictions of a religious conscience draped on us like an ill-fitting suit.Amen.
True revival and societal change comes when people see that Christianity isn’t changed life, it’s new life. That the followers of Jesus aren’t just dressed up humanists, they’re members of a new kingdom that breaks all the rules we’ve been taught about what we deserve and how wedeserve to get it whenever we choose. A kingdom that understands that life is about sacrifice, not about avoiding it. When disciples of that kingdom begin to flood this nation, an unbelieving people will start to see that the body of Christ really does have a resemblance.
Sunday, July 31, 2005
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Indeed, the story of the Bible is the story of God's restoration project. He is not restoring a human kingdom. He is not restoring, in the final analysis, your personal health and well-being (your "heart"). He is restoring a people among whom he might dwell.
As Christians, we live on the very crest of this supernatural wave. We are the first fruits of this new creation. To us he has given His Spirit in power. Our savior is called Emmanuel, "God with us," and we are to go forth in his name, empowered by his Spirit within us, doing his work, being his representatives, his "bond servants." Amazing. It will be a life of labor, even at times of sorrow, and yet it will result in the praise of God for his marvelous and invincible plan.
Amen. One of my long-term goals is to begin to see my own life and my congregation in the light of the Kingdom. Bob's post has helped me a little bit more toward that goal.
Friday, July 29, 2005
Of course the overall lesson in the above scripture is that people that sow generously, not out of guilt or perceived obligation but out of a true burden in their heart, will be rewarded with a large amount of grace. The real lesson to learn though is not about the heart of the giver though, it is about the nature of God.The nature of God---it's good to keep that focus in mind, especially on scriptural passages that promise good things to us.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
But the real impact that we should see is in the continuing realization that missions is not a seven day trip to Austin, Texas, a two week trip to Honduras or a month-long trip to Viet Nam, but that missions is something we do every day in our community. That is why I keep harping to you good fellow church members of mine the need to find opportunities locally to become involved in lives in the mission field in which we live.Amen, and amen!
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
What I’m talking about I can only speak of in mystical terms. There is a zone, a spiritual state that can occur in preaching . . .Can anyone relate? More importantly: Is what Chris describes merely a personal experience, or are those who hear more powerfully touched by the Word?
. . . that is similar to the experience testified to by warriors, who in the midst of battle, are caught up in the battle spirit and time stands still and they enter into a new state of being entirely. Alternatively, it is like the experience of a cellist who finds herself suddenly in a moment in which she has transcended all her technique and training, and is one with the music, in harmony with that divine song that holds the universe together. She is no longer speaking instructions to herself and playing a score, rather she is being played.
I don’t know that what I am describing is an ecstatic experience so much as it is mystical. It is not irrational; the mind is still alert—even uncommonly alert. In preaching moments like this I am uncharacteristic calm, fully present to the moment, reverent to something greater than myself, astonishingly open, free.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Christian publishers have eagerly and deliberately fomented evangelicalism's bizarre craving for more and more fads and programs. Trust me: no one loves the Fad-Driven® Church more than the Profit-Driven® publishing industry. . . .Phil's post is an excellent reminder of what the church's focus ought not to be. It also reminded me of what it should be: Jesus Christ, the living Word of God.
If you don't believe me, visit the annual convention of the Christian Booksellers' Association, spend an afternoon on the display floor, and take inventory of the dross that dominates the evangelical marketplace. It seems almost everything currently in style—and everything that hopes to become the next great evangelical fad—is tacky, trashy, and trivial. And the unscrupulous cheapjacks who manufacture and peddle this stuff hype their rubbish with marketing machines that rival anything in the secular world.
. . . unlike in many other religions, history is central to Christian belief. Christianity emerges from historical events and constantly focuses on those points in time when God broke into the world to be redemptively involved in the lives of his people: Abraham's call . . . The exodus . . . The coming of Christ, etc.Amen.
Christianity cannot be boiled down to a state of mind or ethical principles. the truths of salvation are events, not just abstract ideas. History is essential and redemptive. For Christians, the historical events of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection form the core of Gospel truth and the foundation of authentic religion. To be Christian means letting the Lord make my story part of the larger story of God's past and present saving work in Christ.
From The Crux of the Matter: Crisis, Tradition, and the Future of Churches of Christ, Rev. Study Ed., by Jeff W. Childers, Douglas A. Foster, and Jack R. Reese. Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2002, p. 48.
Monday, July 25, 2005
We've obscured the meaning of justification by faith by all sorts of nonbiblical terms from "invite Jesus into your life" and "surrender to Christ" to (for children) "ask Jesus to be your special friend." Are we smarter than the Spirit? Are we more clever, more articulate, better able to understand how to get through to people? We need to repent of false representations of the Gospel. And if you think I am being overly technical, survey your people and find out how many of them believe they are saved because of what they said, prayed, did (going forward). I read on someone's blog yesterday . . . about a woman who would bribe children with candy so that they would pray the sinner's prayer, and thereby be "saved." What a horrible, horrible thing to do. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Let's explain it clearly and accurately. It is possible to do both.
Here's a side note. Since starting to blog I've become more careful in how I cast descriptions of "the church." Despite my natural US-oriented parochialism, it occurs to me that readers from UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are not necessarily dealing with the same issues--thus the qualification of North American church (still, those in Estados Unidos Mexicanos might take issue with my somewhat limited use of North American).
Saturday, July 23, 2005
Why am I going so far off-topic to divert attention to my writing on another blog? Ego, of course. I want everyone to know (1) I told you so, and (2) You read it here first.
Friday, July 22, 2005
God calls and man responds. The story of Samuel, Eli's helper, is a good for this. God calls us by name and, as Eli advises, we should quickly reply "Here I am, Lord!" This dovetails with everything we know about the relationship between God and Man: God calls, we listen and move towards God. God invites, we accept and we move closer to God. It is always God who initiates. It is to our advantage to respond openly, with humility and sincerity, and the end is always to become one with God. That is prayer: a relationship with God that starts with God, proceeds with our acceptance, and ends with God.Yes, God initiates the contact and should be always at the center of our prayer. But how do we move beyond me-centered prayer? "Shema! Listen!" Jeff says. Find God in the Scriptures, devotional writings, and most fully in the Lord's Supper.
Some preachers are quite competent to get done what they need to get done working this way. But most of us aren’t. And I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t think any of us should as a course of habit. Some preachers might be able to cram sermon preparation into the last two days of the week and preach well occasionally, but I don’t think they can consistently.Even when the demands of ministry prevent us from doing the seven-day preparation we'd like, there's still a better way than frantically straining to come up with something on the weekend:
I prefer—instead of anxiously fretting and grinding away trying to get something down on paper fit enough for preaching on Sunday—to pause instead, radically abbreviating my normal exegetical routine and find some solitude and silence . . . and just listen.Amen. I appreciate Clark Christian turning me on to Odyssey, and I look forward to visiting it again.
In listening the real sermon is born. In the listening the preacher is changed from being a mere reporter of things observed to being a messenger. A sermon is not a poetry reading or a lecture or an exhibition of great oratory skills—it is a living word.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Name a problem in our society and I bet you can trace it back to our misguided belief in self-sufficiency.That's something to think about.
Ever wonder why there are a hundred different types of breakfast cereal in the grocery store? Self-sufficiency breeds self-centeredness. Self-centeredness naturally evolves into the concept that I am the master of my own kingdom. As a king, I need something that sets me apart from the commoner. They may eat cornflakes, but Ineed the organic muesli with non-GMO, freeze-dried ollaliberries added. The common becomes despised because I require something better. Whining for "better" promotes greed. Need I say more?
Folks, being more holy won't fix this. We've tried that route and failed miserably. Nor will attempting to live a simpler life get us out from under the burden that reinforces the very complexity we try to avoid. The brick wall awaits and we're going ninety even with the brakes on. The system is broken at a fundamental level: We lack real, connected community and our need to overcome that lack results in our becoming self-sufficient. If I don't need you, I need everything that is not you that might replace you. And soon enough, the thing that replaces you is viewed as more essential than you are. Is it any surprise then that we live in such an angry society.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
By "clean" I mean that Christians often want to tell conversion stories that are clean: I was a sinner and then I found Jesus and now I'm squeaky clean. This kind of story happens sometimes -- and I know lots of people like this. So this is one kind of story.
But there is another kind of story that is far more normal than the "clean stories" suggest. The fact is that many if not most Christians struggle, especially until they line up into the ruts and routines of middle age (and then some are still struggling). If struggling is far more common than we often hear, why don't we tell more of those stories. Will it, as some have suggested, create a bad model and steer the struggling into thinking that their struggles are OK or that they can sin and it is OK?
I'm afraid I'm one of those who've fallen into the "ruts and routines of middle age," but I think Scot is right. These days I'm so overwhelmed with the blessings of God's grace--giving me purpose and hope and joy--that it's easy to forget who very much I struggled as a young man, and how much those around me are still struggling today.
Scot's been devoting a lot of blog space recently to conversion (here and here and here and here and here). The idea of clean and messy certainly describes that process. When, for example, was I converted? At my infant baptism? Confirmation at age 11? My baptism by immersion at age 18? Leaving an increasingly apostate denomination at 25? Beginning to live a life somewhat resembling Christian discipleship in my early 30s?
As a minister, the temptation is strong to pick one of those events and say that's my point of conversion. But I won't. There's no value in speculating on if I had died at a certain point whether I would have gone to heaven or hell. I'm inclined to believe most if not all the events of my life have been elements of my conversion, from my parent's commitment to rear me as a Christian as best they understood that path through my own efforts to live as befits my calling. I wish my story were cleaner, but it's not. In a very real sense, I'm still being converted--not from lost to saved, but more and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Praise him.
Larry James has a dynamite post asking what you heard in Sunday morning's sermon. Here's a sample of Larry's questions:
Was there any word about "the poor"?
Did you hear anything about the health of the community or the nation?
Did you hear a word about "community" or was the morning line more about individualism?
Did anyone mention the concerns of "peace" in this time of terrible war and violence?
Did your experience direct your energy more toward the next life or did you find yourself eager to move out into your world to make a difference in your here and now?
Larry works full-time among the poor in Dallas, Texas, and undestands what Jesus meant when he spoke of the importance of remembering "the least of these." Preachers, I strongly recommend you read Larry's whole post.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
There's this thing I like to call "Associate Pastor Syndrome"--actually, I think my roommate coined the phrase. If you've ever seen an Associate Pastor get up to preach one of the three sermons he has a year, you might have seen a man with so much pent up preaching energy that the whole bible passionately explodes on stage, leaving an odd, sticky residue on the congregation.
I can relate. It used to be a whole lot easier polishing sermons when I had 3 or 4 months to prepare each one, but I doubt they were any better or more helpful than the week-in, week-out variety. On the more meaty side, Brian's post offers helpful reminders about the need for good exegesis in preaching.
Monday, July 18, 2005
The first thing we have got to do is quit trying to "succeed." We simply are not going to attract huge numbers -- because the gospel is foolishness to so many.
John is on target in reminding us that success in discipleship may not look like success in the world (i.e., big numbers). Remember that the Old Testament prophets were often completely faithful to God and received very little response from a people neck-deep in sin. I do hope that we attract large numbers to the gospel, but John is correct in pointing out that we shouldn't expect it. "Results" are not necessarily indications of faithfulness to God.
We "charis-minded" Christians tend often to focus on the Spirit's gifts in place of the blood of Christ. Perhaps we think we'll win friends if we talk about power rather than weakness, about "overcoming" rather than humiliation. But, as the old song says, "there is power in the blood."
Amen. I appreciate Bob's thoughts. Someone once said that just about every congregation tends to focus on one aspect of the Trinity at the expense of the others: legalistic churches on the Father, sentimental churches on the Son, charistmatic ones on the Spirit. Can we all somehow learn to focus on God in the fullness of his manifestation to humanity?
Saturday, July 16, 2005
They were avid students of the Bible. They revered God’s written Word. They memorized much of it. Organized it topically. They discussed the finer details of it. And they tried to regulate their lives by it.How, then should we approach the Bible? With the words of John 14:6 firmly in our minds.
They were serious students of the Word and Satan had them right where he wanted them. Because they read Scriptures to pursue and validate their religion, instead of reading them in order to hear God and come to know Him better through His Chosen One.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Thursday, July 14, 2005
So, what are you writing on those blogs today, guys?
I recently criticized a bumper sticker that said "The Bible: Life's Instruction Manual" while riding in the car with Daphne. "Insulting," I said, "I'm sure God appreciates his Holy Word being brought down to the value of an instruction manual." I was right, I think, but I often miss the point myself. If I really get it, why do I open the pages of my Bible hoping only to find a new "teachable" Bible truth?Amen. Bible study's not about mining nuggets of truth from the Scripture and "applying" them to the surface of our lives. It's about letting the Word mine the depths of our souls to forge us into the new creations God has made Christians to be.
We shouldn't be turning to Scripture to find sermons, sermon outlines, or Sunday School lessons. We should be turning to Scripture so that the Holy Spirit can reveal our own deadness and the life provided in Jesus Christ so that we are equipped to share that message with anyone who will listen to us.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Preaching is the work of spiritually civilizing the minds of Christian disciples. . . . Our task is not only to display God's "point," but to instill God's logic—how he gets to that point.
The Bottom Line Fallacy, in contrast, focuses more giving listeners The Answer than in helping them learn to think Christianly for themselves:
Sermons that are abstracts of Scripture may properly summarize a biblical truth, but they are unconvincing. They do not reorient our thinking. We may know the bottom line, but we don't know how to live what we know. Without a truth trail, people cannot find their own way to the outposts of truth in their own hearts. Sometimes laying down that truth trail,showing the step-by-step thinking of a text, simply cannot be done in 20 minutes.
In a similar vein, the Practical Fallacy involves trying to make every biblical point relevant to the lives of hearers without giving proper attention to developing Christian thinking:
The Bible spends much more time on shaping the spiritual mind than commanding particular behavior. We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like, than we do in how to communicate with our spouse. Understandingthe glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine.
Amen. Eclov's article is a keeper, full of wisdom, and I recommend it for every preacher.
Monday, July 11, 2005
Here's something I'd never thought of before. Kim at the Upward Call challenges the common idea that better communication can solve just about any relationship problem.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how well we communicate, because the key to successful relationships is not always good communication skills. The key to good relationships is something that cannot be manufactured by our little pea brains. Good relationships come from love, pure and simple.
I enjoy being helped to see simple truths that have eluded me for years. Thanks, Kim.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
. . . I learned that Christians need to hear the gospel all of their lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life and sin-bearing death. I began to see that we stand before God today as righteous as we ever will be, even in heaven, because he has clothed us with the righteousness of his Son. Therefore, I don't have to perform to be accepted by God. Now I am free to obey him and serve him because I am already accepted in Christ (see Rom. 8:1). My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.Amen. Jerry Bridges's article is a great treatment of sanctification, and it's worth the effort to read it all.
Yet even when we understand that our acceptance with God is based on Christ's work, we still naturally tend to drift back into a performance mindset. Consequently, we must continually return to the gospel. To use an expression of the late Jack Miller, we must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." For me that means I keep going back to Scriptures such as Isaiah 53:6, Galatians 2:20, and Romans 8:1. It means I frequently repeat the words from an old hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
. . . if you ask most Christians, what is the gospel or good news, they will probably tell you that it is that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh who died on the cross for our sins.In its fullness, the gospel is about the Kingdom. Tod has written a fine post, one that brings perspective to wide-ranging misunderstanding in the church. I recommend you read it all.
But, they’d be wrong—technically. And that technicality makes all the difference when we consider what it takes to make our churches glimpses of heaven here and now.
You see, according to the Bible, the gospel, the good news, is NOT Jesus loves you so much that he died on the cross for your sins.
It is NOT God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.
It is NOT trust in Jesus and you will be saved. (In fact, that is not news at all, but good advice.)
And while these are all absolutely true and (and the first two) incredibly great news, it is not the good news that Jesus was preaching throughout Galilee. Just think about it: He couldn’t have been preaching that he died on the cross for the sins of the world, because he was still alive preaching!
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Let me make one practical point regarding Daniel’s take on resurrection. It is not about us! Your and my future hope is about the glory of God. We rise only to give glory to the God who creates us for lives of justice and righteousness.That's worth remembering.
Monday, July 04, 2005
OK, I admit it
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Saturday, July 02, 2005
. . . whenever a person in a church is unemployed, we need to do everything possible to help that person find work ASAP. There is no sense for me to be buying $4000 plasma TVs when another family in my congregation is burning through their life's savings while trying to find work.I can relate. Being fired from my job with a previous congregation put my family in a financial bind and left us hanging without the spiritual support community we had been a part of for years. Some members seemed to forget us. Others--in most cases not the "pillars" of the church--came to our aid with their time and money. As the first few chapters of Acts show us time and again, we shouldn't view our money or property as our own. Not only helping but sacrificing for one another should be standard operating procedure for the church.
Friday, July 01, 2005
Very often we look at the gospel as being all about us. We focus upon our justification. Our benefits. Our standings. And to some degree that is all well and good. God's good news is greatly beneficial to us.Yes.
But, primarily the gospel concerns God. It is chiefly occupied with the great scandal of how a just God can spare any sinner. How can God allow sins to remain, apparently, unpunished. And the answer is found in the death of Jesus. Without that the one who justifies is unjust. . . .
It's the greatest scandal in history. God is just and justifies sinners. It is the greatest good news in the world. And it is more relevant to your life than you could imagine.